History of Restorative Justice
Restorative justice practices have extensive roots in countries throughout the world. Among native North Americans, circle processes have been used for centuries as a form of community justice. Similarly in New Zealand and Australia, restorative circles have been used by Aboriginal communities to resolve offenses and conflicts. Following the end of apartheid, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard over 10,000 cases in which violent offenders sought amnesty in exchange for complete disclosure and accountability, performing restitution and apologizing for their acts. As of the late 1990’s there were over two dozen restorative justice programs operating in Canada, nearly 300 in Germany and 130 in Finland. During the 1990’s, restorative justice spread throughout the United States, both in the criminal justice systems and in schools.
Most restorative justice programs utilize facilitated conferences to enable offenders, victims and community members to meet face to face in order to discuss the offense and determine how to best repair the harm. When offenders hear their victims describe the effect the offense had on them, they often feel empathy and express remorse. In order to repair the harm arising from their wrongful act, offenders are asked to perform reparative acts. Restorative justice conferences result in high levels of satisfaction among offenders, victims and community members. The participants report being gratified that they were heard, that their needs were met, and that the results were just. They also felt secure during the process. These results show significant advantages compared to the punitive process and have led to the expansion of restorative justice to other areas of conflict resolution.