Legal systems focus on rules and laws and often disregard the reality that crime is essentially about causing harm. Restorative justice, also sometimes called reparative or corrective justice, views crime as an offence against people within communities unlike the abstract legal definition of crime as a violation against the State; the main concern of restorative justice is victims’ needs, how to meet these needs and repairing the harm as much as possible (Bazemore & Schiff, 2001). It seeks to expand the issues beyond those that are legally relevant, especially into underlying relationships.
Restorative justice is a fast growing social movement that institutionalizes peaceful ways to solve the violations of both human and legal rights and harm caused (Strang, 2002). It also focuses on offenders’ accountability and responsibility by encouraging them to understand the harm they cause, the consequences of their actions empathizing with victims. Various forms of restorative justice have emerged including:
- Victim – offender conferencing
- Family group conferences
- Sentencing circles
- Community restorative boards
- Restorative conferencing
- Restorative Circles and Restorative Systems
Victim – offender conferencing is the most appealing and common application of restorative justice. It has increasingly received the attention of criminal justice officials and other members of community as long as they realize that the current approach to justice usually neglects important dimensions of healing and responsibility (Fattah & Parmentier, 2001). It aims at meeting a variety of victim’s needs such as the need for answers and restitution, it aims to bring victims into the process of healing instead of leaving them in the passive position they find themselves in within the current legal system.
At the offenders part, it aims at holding them accountable for their behavior helping them understand the consequences of their crime through confrontation and encouraging their reintegration into society without overreliance on costly incarceration.
It involves few participants. Trained volunteers contact both the victim and offender separately upon judicial examination of a given case by a court or in some cases probation service to explore what happened and evaluate their willingness to proceed. In case when an agreement is reached, the offender and a victim are brought together with a neutral volunteer mediator serving as a third party. Here the parties are introduced to each other and specific ground rules set. All facts regarding the offence are fully explored, feelings expressed and a restitution contract developed by the mediator is signed by all parties (Bazemore & Schiff, 2001). A brief report and the contract are taken back to court or the referring agency where it is closely monitored. In case it becomes a part of a sentence, it must get the final approval of the court and then become a condition of probation. The restitution agreement, however, is not as important as the opportunity victim-offender conferencing provides to crime victims to express their feelings about the offence directly to the offenders.
Victim-offender conference provides a way to include and involve victims, offender, and the community in search for resolution to the problems caused by crime. It addresses both informational and emotional needs of victims that are vital for their empowerment and development of victim empathy which can in turn help to prevent future criminal behavior (Declan, 2003).