Talk:Restorative justice

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In response to commenter[edit]

When I was reading down through the comparison list, I too felt that the language used was loaded, in many ways. Especially religiously, like Shalom. But then I remembered that most of the work done on restorative justice has been done within a religious context, so I figure that is okay. I also feel the table is vague when it uses terms like "direct involvement." But I would also like to add a few comments in response to the previous discussion. The united states largely works within a retributive justice system, and many of the attritubtes in the list I can see in real life. Victims in the united states are sidelined in many ways. They do not have a choice to forgive, which is the most important way that they are taken out, and the relationship becomes between the offender and the state. If a victim ends up wanting to drop the charges, in anything other than a civil case, once he or she has notified the police, the crime is automatically considered to be against society, and the victim must proceed with painful court processings, as well as spend a lot of time and energy "pushing charges" when he or she may not want to in the first place. Also, the stigma of incarceration is never removed in this society. Even if the stigma is ideally unnecessary, past-offenders cannot wipe their history clean. Employers, especially, but also landlords, banks and credit companies ask their prospective workers, renters and customers about a criminal background. We do not let past offenders fully integrate back into society, free from the stigma of having being in prison.

Comment to above statement: I was the one who included the table originally. It would only be fair to expose my point of view. I'm glad to see it has stimulated good discussion and I find many comments useful. Since 1980, I've worked in prison ministry and my comparison was not from an academic viewpoint or to be understood entirely with no expansion. I use this chart as a discussion stimulation to show primarily a biblical restorative justice. Of course, no system is purely retributive or restorative, nor is either without its problems. I believe punishment should be a part of most offender's sentence.

To me, one of the main question becomes, "What condition do we want the offenders to be in when they return to society?" Since over 95% do eventually get released and over half make the return trip to prison, what should society's response be? We ought to rethink the US's tendency to lock up more and more people. We now (2005) have over 2.1 million behind bars - not including most county or smaller jails. That's a lot of people that we are forcing through a prison experience. What are we doing with them in prison and what preparations are we making for their release?

The stigma, again primarily in the US, is almost unremoveable. I work with ex-offenders every day and see the raw prejudice shown in many employers and rental property. Once company policy is set, it no longer matters, in most cases, who the person has become meanwhile and what they have done with their lives. Most rental property in major cities disallows ex-offenders no matter how long they have been out, what their credit rating is or what they have contributed to society. I think we should move toward an ex-ex-offender status, that is, after a given amount of crime-free time, a person's record should be expunged - only to be resurrected if they commit another crime. Other countries have already moved toward this with varying amounts of time out and other conditions. This way a person could apply for a job or apartment and be treated like any other citizen.

Obviously the whole topic is complex and shaded by many points of view. My hope is that people will join in a public dialog to examine what we are doing. Examine our incarceration rate and you'll see it has grown very fast over the last 20 years. In 2004, the crime rate went down and prison population still increased. The US now has about 6 million either behind bars or already released or about 1 in every 37 adults. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "If current trends continue, it means that a black male in the United States would have about a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime. For a Hispanic male, it's 1 in 6; for a white male, 1 in 17." The trends look even worse extrapolated over the next few decades. They go on to say, "These new numbers are shocking enough, but what we don't see are the ripple effects of what they mean: For the generation of black children today, there's almost an inevitable aspect of going to prison," says Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington. "We have the wealthiest society in human history, and we maintain the highest level of imprisonment. It's striking what that says about our approach to social problems and inequality."

Whatever term you want to give it, by putting bigger percentages of people behind bars without considering the long term consequences is extremely short-sighted. I have been a victim several times over and am not advocating we have no incarceration, but that we should consciously look at the whole process of criminal justice and begin making changes that will be better for all of us. If you include criminals, victims, criminal justice professionals (from police and lawyers to guards) and all their families, you are talking about impacting from one in four to one in five people. That's huge. So my main point remains - let's talk and make some changes.

Expansion of the article / Resources available from Prince William County[edit]

Are there plans to expand this article? It could use some more facts to back up the assertions made in the table. I will see about getting ahold of some statistics about recidivism that have citable references. The Office of Dispute Resolution in Prince William County, VA has some on file. Another individual to contact would be Phyllis Turner-Lawrence, who has accumulated a lot of research on restorative justice, and was the first director of Restorative Justice in that county. [1]

A few years ago, a lengthy report was written about improving the system in that county, since initially there were problems handling cases on a reasonable timeline. (That problem has since been largely resolved.) That report has transcripts of interviews of probation officers, facilitators, etc. from all over the Prince William County judicial system, talking about their views of the system. I will see about getting ahold of that.

Overall, in Prince William County, offenders who went through restoration had much lower recidivism rates than those who went through the retributive justice system. That is one of the main considerations in whether a juvenile diversion program is successful, from the state's point of view.

It would also be good to note that some cases are more suitable for restoration than others. Some examples of factors in favor of sending a case to restoration are:

  • The crime has a readily identifiable victim (i.e. not truancy or marijuana possession)
  • Victim(s) are willing to participate
  • Offender(s) admit responsibility for the offense

Nathanlarson32767 18:23, 12 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Victimless crimes are an interesting case. Neither restorative nor retributive justice offers clear and consistent justification for corrections of any kind. If we are to have victimless crimes, then we must turn to deterence theory to justify punishment. CyborgTosser (Only half the battle) 07:12, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)


I am working on finding recidivism statistics for juvenile offenders in Prince William County who did not go through restorative justice. The statewide recidivism rate for juvenile offenders who don't go through restorative justice is about 80%. Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 18:35, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Retributive justice[edit]

In reference to the retributive justice article, do you have any more details about "the recent practical failings of restorative justice"? I am writing an article on restorative justice that will include 2001 stats from Department of Justice Canada showing restorative justice has lower recidivism than retributive justice[2]. Most of the data I have found (such as studies by University of Minnesota professor Mark Umbreit) show that restoration has better rates of victim and offender satisfaction as well. I will copy this message to the retributive justice talk page. Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 19:34, 27 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I can find some info, but give me a couple weeks. I will see what sources Michael Davis cites in his book on the subject, but unfortunately I left it at school. As far as your question, the "recent practical failings" I refer to were recent in the 1980s (I thought it was clear from context but you can clarify if you think it is unclear. I am refering to an approach that started in California and became the popular approach to corrections in the US in the 1960s and 1970s. I believe recidivism actually increased (but I'll have to check). However, it wasn't quite the same as restorative justice in the narrow sense that the article is about, and I think there is perhaps a problem with terminology here that should be fixed before arguing any further, because we may not be arguing about the same thing. CyborgTosser (Only half the battle) 18:31, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)
All right. If you can find anything specific about problems with restorative justice in the 1980s, that could be a good addition to the restorative justice article. Recidivism is the type of thing that takes longitudinal studies to measure. Those stats tend to be hard to come by. As late at 2000, Department of Justice Canada was reporting that the data were inconclusive (see The Effects of Restorative Justice Programming: A Review of the Empirical. However, by 2001, they apparently felt confident in saying that RJ was associated with lower recidivism rates (see The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis), although with the caveat that there was a "file-drawer" problem, whatever that is. I will copy this discussion to the Restorative Justice page. Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 18:49, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)
As I promised, I have looked for the sources I mentioned. However, I think they are not particularly pertinent to the discussion, as it has become clear to me that there is largely a problem in terminology. I was mistaken that Michael Davis refers to a the wider sense of a theory of justice that I have called restorative justice in the wider sense as "restorative justice" at all. I know I have seen the phrase used as such, but given the discussion here, it is clear to me know that this is a less common usage than what this article is about. With this in mind, I will change retributive justice accordingly.
As a sidenote, I was also off with the dates. The experiments in a reform system of punishment (what I had originally refered to as restorative justice) began in the 1950s, and it was clear they had failed before the 1980s.
I hope this is of some help in clearing up any confusion. CyborgTosser (Only half the battle) 10:59, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)


This article and this discussion page have a problem with terminology that luckily seems to be localized. "Retributive justice" is I believe being used as a synonym for "current criminal justice systems in the US, Canada, etc." when there are in truth large differences. In contrast, this mistake is not made on the retributive justice article.

I feel like I may be making too big a fuss about this problem of terminology, but I really can't be certain whether or not I am actually in disagreement with those people here who are disagreeing with me, because of this barrier. CyborgTosser (Only half the battle) 19:08, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Most people involved in the restorative justice movement are accustomed to contrasting their restorative justice programs with the current criminal justice system. They make that contrast when they are explaining it to legislators, victims, offenders, etc, since those audiences are more familiar with the current criminal justice system than with any purely retributive justice system. The current justice system, then, ends up being nicknamed "retributive justice" and the wide variety of restorative justice programs calling themselves such end up being collectively nicknamed "restorative justice".
In academic settings, people are more likely to contrast restorative justice systems to purer retributive justice systems such as certain parts of the Code of Hammurabi, because the audience is more likely to be familiar with Hammurabi. Hammurabi usually doesn't get mentioned much in legislative debates, since there aren't any bills to implement his system.
Anyway, some "restorative" systems mentioned in this article, such as Community Restorative Boards, have many similarities to the current court system.. so, I have to wonder, does court-ordered restitution also count as restorative justice? What about community service? Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 01:25, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)
I will ask someone in the Restorative Justice movement about that and get back to you.. Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 02:06, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)


According to Dorothy Larson, Director of the Office of Dispute Resolution in Prince William County, victim-offender mediation is associated with higher rates of restitution payment than cases that go through the court system. The reason is that the victim and offender agree on the timetable, form, and amount of restitution in the conference, and also get to know each other. Court-ordered restitution, decided unilaterally by the judge, frequently goes unpaid in Virginia. Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 03:07, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)

I hesitate to put it in the article until I have citable stats though.. There is info out there though.. I'm just too slothful at the moment to find it.. Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 03:08, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Information from Phyllis Lawrence in re: terminology[edit]

(Thank you to Phyllis for supplying this information.) Nathanlarson32767 (Talk) 00:39, 30 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Interesting dialogue you two are having, and I hope you'll share any stats that you find with me.

Re community service and court-ordered restitution -- it is good to consider practices on a continuum. Some places that discuss this are listed below. When anything is court-ordered (except I guess for when the court just puts into an order the outcomes of a victim-offender dialogue), there is the question of how much victim input and offender participation (buy-in) exists. The more you have of each, the more restorative. Also, there is the RJ principle of “competency development’ – so community service should either be connected with the crime and making repair, or be about developing competency in the offender that will serve him/her in the future.

Actually, Umbreit and Zehr both worked on having courts look at restitution as an alternative to punishment, as or before they got into V-O work. They and some other RJ pioneers had an organization that worked on that in the 80’s and early 90’s, RESSTA. (I remember the acronym, but not the words)

So on the continuum, anything that has an element of repairing harm, rather than just punishment, is moving in the RJ direction. The more victim, offender, and community input, and other factors (see chart under item 1 below) moves a practice to be more restorative. So I do think that the wikipedia article’s use of “retributive” might be explained as one end of a continuum, and indicate that many current systems are using some elements of repairing harm, but are not nearly as restorative as they could be. This is the risk the movement has been facing: as the buzz word/phrase has caught on, courts and systems are claiming that by ordering restitution and CS and apologies, they are “already restorative.”

1., see the list of least and most.

2. In the section on the 1999 conference, see this reference

The presentations at the 1999 conference have led to the publication of a book: “Victim-Offender Mediation in Europe. Making Restorative Justice Work” (2000) , available from Leuven University Press.

In the first part of this book victim-offender mediation and restorative justice are being considered from a more theoretical point of view. In his contribution, Martin Wright contends that there is no hard-and-fast division between measures that are restorative and those that are not. Rather there is a spectrum. He describes ‘unilateral’, ‘democratic’ and ‘authoritarian’ Restorative Justice as three points on this continuum

You can also reference this page about Genesee County, NY, which adopted a restorative, holistic approach before the term “restorative” was widely used, if at all. They call it “Genessee Justice”

take care,


Thank you. This information is useful. I would like to point out however that there is a danger to putting things on a "continuum" when in actuality there is more than one dimension for differences. This is true for example of politics, where we can't really say a party is such and such amount to the left or to the right, when it is more complicated than that. The same is true of criminal justice systems. If you imagine all possible criminal justice systems out there (for those who like to think of things geometrically, think of an N-dimensional space, where N is a large number), took one point as purely restorative, one as purely restributive (of course you would have to select a particular variety of retributionism) and drew a straight line between the two, I don't believe any legal system in existance today would lie anywhere near that line. Moving toward restorative justice is not the same thing as moving away from retributive justice. Moving away from the current legal system is not the same as moving away from retributive justice. CyborgTosser (Only half the battle) 00:29, 31 Dec 2004 (UTC)

POV considerations in the current state of the article[edit]

I think the article current is much closer to NPOV. Although it does make mention of retributive justice as an opposing theory in a couple of contexts, it no longer present the two theories as opposing in the large.

Something worth mentioning, because of the problem I pointed out with terminology, would be that many restorative justice supporters use the term "retributive justice" somewhat incorrectly to identify the current state of the legal system. Perhaps a section explaining when the two theories could compliment each other and when they are in opposition would be informative and help correct the effect the misuse of terminology might have. The section on cases where restorative justice is inappropriate is a good start.

Finally, I agree that it is useful to point out difference between restorative justice and other theories, but I don't see why retributive justice should be singled out, even if that is the one that is focused on by restorative justice supporters. A comparison to reform, incapacitation, social education, and deterrence would be fair. Unfortunately, I am probably not knowledgeable enough about restorative justice to make those comparisons myself. CyborgTosser (Only half the battle) 11:14, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)