What is restorative justice?

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Author: 
Jon Collins
Date: 
20 April 2015

I’ve been working for the RJC for almost a year now and there’s one question that I’ve been asked more often than any other in that time, by everyone from members of my family to members of parliament: ‘What is restorative justice?’

For somebody like me, immersed in the justice system, giving a long, detailed and highly technical answer is the easy way out. I can describe the minutiae with the best of them. But that approach won’t work with people who are, let’s face it, just being polite. 

Instead I need a quick, easy-to-grasp way of describing restorative justice – and the broader restorative practice field – that doesn’t leave people’s eyes glazing over. It needs to explain and convince, without overcomplicating the message. It needs to boil down the complexities, yet not lose sight of the nuances.

That’s not easy.

Here at the RJC we say that restorative justice gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offender. We say it’s about victims and offenders communicating within a controlled environment to talk about the harm that has been caused and to find a way to repair that harm. We explain how it empowers victims, lets them have their say and helps them to move on with their lives. How it helps offenders to recognise the impact of what they have done, take responsibility and make amends.

But we are always looking for ways to find a better answer to that all important question. Does talking about cost savings, at a time when money is tight, help sell restorative justice? Or does it make it sound like justice on the cheap? Does talking about research, reoffending rates and victim satisfaction add credibility? Or does it just lose people’s interest?

What is restorative justice? It’s an important question, and part of the RJC’s role is to make sure that more people know the answer. In fact, it’s clear that all those who want to promote restorative justice to the public need to find a compelling way to explain it, whether it’s to a taxi driver or the Today Programme. And we’re keen to learn from others’ experiences. So what do you say when people ask you?