Restorative justice is an approach to justice that centers the roles of victims and offenders in the justice process with the goal of addressing the harm caused by crime on an individual level, instead of a more abstract government level. Instead of regarding a crime simply as a violation of the law and an act against the state, restorative justice advocates consider crimes to be acts against individuals, and they are treated as such. Many historic legal systems used this approach, and some modern systems have begun considering restorative justice in their approach to criminal law.
The concept can already be seen active in civil law, where people can take each other to court to sue for damages. It is also commonly employed informally in environments like the family, where it is common for whole families to cooperate on determining punishments for misbehavior and violation of house rules. Many residential facilities for people like troubled youth and psychiatric patients also use restorative justice for disciplining their members.
In a case where the principles of this approach are applied, victims have an opportunity to offer input, talking about the impact the crime had on their lives and the resolution they would like to see. Victims may be able to interact directly with offenders in a mediated environment, creating a personal connection between both parties. Offenders have an opportunity to make personal amends like apologizing or providing restitution, and they can also engage in community service and other activities to apologize to the community, as well as the victim.
Everyone is given a role in the justice process when the principles of restorative justice are used. Studies have shown that victims tend to express more satisfaction with case outcomes when this approach is utilized, both because they are offered an opportunity to participate, and because their needs are considered when punishments are meted out. Recidivism is also decreased, as offenders are made aware of the impacts of their actions on a personal level.
Communities can use restorative justice in a number of different ways. Programs promoting this approach to justice work with people like victim advocates, law enforcement, and criminal science scholars to develop a program for implementing restorative justice in their community. Allowing victims to provide input during sentencing and probation hearings is very popular in some regions, as is the possibility of mediated discussions with offenders to allow both parties a chance to communicate directly with each other.