After an individual is convicted of a crime, they will receive a criminal punishment during the sentencing phase. This can include a wide range of punishments, from probation to prison time. The type of criminal sentence depends on the severity of the crime, and in some instances also the individual’s criminal history. For example, a first time offender of a misdemeanor or less serious felony will likely be shown some leniency and given a lighter sentence.

Today, more jurisdictions are choosing to explore a restorative justice model rather than the traditional crime and punishment approach. In addition to the criminal court, restorative justice may be administered by comprehensive victim service programs and community advisory boards.

Restorative justice is an alternative to sentencing someone to jail or prison for committing a crime. Instead, a restorative justice approach focuses on:

  • The offender paying restitution;
  • The offender doing community service to pay their debt to society;
  • The offender apologizing for committing the crime; and/or
  • Victim-offender meetings.

What are the Benefits of Restorative Justice?

The goal of this type of justice system is to repair the harm done by the offender who committed the crime. Restorative justice does not focus as much on the type of crime, and can even be used in situations involving serious or violent criminal acts.

Some benefits of a restorative justice system include:

  • Rehabilitation;
  • Restitution;
  • Ability to make amends with the victim; and
  • Community reconciliation.

This approach is meant to transform both the victim and offender after a terrible wrong occurs. Restorative justice focuses on the principle that people deserve second chances, but must first admit their wrongs and take steps to make a negative situation as positive as possible.

Where Else is Restorative Justice Used?

As discussed, restorative justice can be used as an alternate method in the criminal justice system. However, the principles of restorative justice can be used in other settings as well for conflict resolution. This includes the following:

  • Family households;
  • Work;
  • Educational institutions;
  • Churches; and/or
  • Other community groups.

For example, say two students were involved in a bullying situation that turned violent. Restorative justice practices could be used to solve the problem by allowing the offender to make amends with the victim.

The alternative punishment for the bully could be harsher, such as expulsion from school or criminal charges (depending on the student’s age and level of violence). Restorative justice is an ideal alternative in an adolescent setting.

Another example where restorative justice could be used is for workplace harassment. Before starting a state human rights investigation, filing a lawsuit or seeking criminal charges, an employee who feels they have been harassed can try restorative justice. A mediation could be helpful in this situation so both parties have the opportunity to air their feelings.

The person accused of harassment will have the opportunity to understand the consequences of their actions, become educated on appropriate workplace behavior and make amends with the victim. If successful, this can help avoid termination or a hostile work environment.

What is a Victim-Offender Meeting?

If both the victim and offender agree, a meeting can be arranged after the crime occurs. A victim-offender meeting is commonly referred to as victim mediation. It involves a face-to-face meeting between an offender and their victim. A mediator, who is an uninterested third-party facilitator, oversees the meeting to ensure things go smoothly and help both parties express their feelings that resulted from the crime.

The goal of a victim-offender meeting is to personalize the criminal incident and encourage dialogue between the two parties. The offender and victim may discuss other things beyond the crime itself such as compensating the victim.

After the meeting, a written resolution is handed over to the court and becomes a formal court order. For example, if the crime is theft the offender may agree to compensate the victim for the money or items they stole.

While lawyers are not required to be present during this type of meeting, a lawyer can offer valuable legal advice or counsel prior to or following the meeting. It would be helpful to discuss the situation with a lawyer beforehand if there is a chance that victim compensation or other form of restorative justice may be discussed during the mediation. If a party wishes to have a lawyer present during the meeting itself, that is also an option.

Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is much more complex than other forms of criminal punishment. Many victims may not want to participate, especially if they went through the trauma of a serious or violent crime. To understand more about restorative justice and how it affects victims and offenders, contact a local criminal lawyer. A criminal lawyer can help an offender understand their role in a restorative justice system and guide them through the process. A lawyer can also explain the benefits of restorative justice and emphasize the importance of being offered a chance for rehabilitation.