Key Messages on Restorative Justice

Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on Restorative Justice
Subcommittee on Public and Justice Sector Education
December 22, 2009

This document includes Key Messages about what restorative justice (RJ ) is and how it can be used with appropriate matters in the criminal justice system. It is intended to assist federal, provincial and territorial governments, justice agencies, and restorative agencies with public education and communications about RJ.

The Key Messages are written in a general way that attempts to reflect the diversity of RJ across the country. For more comprehensive and detailed information, please see the list of websites at the end of this document.

This document contains three sets of Key Messages that could be used with different audiences:

  • Overall Key Messages, which could be used for a wide range of groups, including the public and justice sector agencies;
  • Public Messages, which have been developed for RJ agencies, community-based agencies, post-secondary educational institutions, and interested members of the public; and
  • Justice Sector Messages, which have been developed for justice sector agencies.

Overall Key Messages

  • Within the criminal justice sector, RJ is, "An approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for his or her actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by crime – victim(s), offender and community – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime." It supports healing, reintegration, the prevention of future harm, and reparation, if possible.
    • This definition has been adapted from Robert Cormier's 2002 report, Restorative Justice: Directions and Principles – Developments in Canada. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada. Available online at: http://www.nicic.org/Library/017800
  • In addition to being used at all stages of the criminal justice process, RJ can be used in many other ways. For example, it is being used in schools, workplaces, and neighbourhoods.
  • RJ can respect individual and community diversity. It can incorporate different cultural and spiritual practices.
  • We are all working toward healthier communities.
    • RJ has been incorporated in the formal justice system for over 30 years.
    • Some RJ programs borrow from Aboriginal justice practices, which have been used by Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years.
    • Restorative programs operate in every province and territory.
    • Restorative Justice Week, which occurs in the third week of November, is celebrated in over 40 countries.
  • Each case is unique. Within the criminal justice system, RJ provides an opportunity for victimsi , offenders, community members and others to have a say in how the crime could be addressed.
  • RJ is effective. Research has indicated that it can:
    • Provide an opportunity for victims to talk about how the crime affected them, ask the offender questions, have their harm or loss acknowledged, and have a say in how the matter is addressed.
    • Help victims have their needs and concerns addressed.
    • Provide an opportunity for victims to receive restitution, depending on the restorative model being used.
    • Give offenders an opportunity to be accountable for their actions.
    • Involve the community in supporting victims and finding other ways to address crime.
    • Reduce re-offending.
    • Contribute to the safe reintegration of offenders.

Public Messages

  • Communities and governments must work together to address crime.
    • Restorative programs in Canada are provided by a range of groups, such as community agencies, faith groups, Aboriginal organizations, and government departments.
    • RJ programs are supported by federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments; schools; churches; universities; health authorities; and many other groups.
  • The justice system is involved when restorative processes are used with criminal cases.
    • Restorative programs that handle adult and youth criminal cases work within the framework of the law and government policies.
    • Referrals are usually made to restorative programs by the police, Crown prosecutors and judges. Sometimes cases are also self-referred by victims and offenders.
  • RJ empowers victims.
    • Victims are key stakeholders in RJ . RJ offers victims who choose to participate an opportunity to express their views and needs.
    • Victims who choose to participate can tell the offender how the crime affected them, ask questions about what happened, and have a say in how to address the harm they suffered.
  • Restorative processes create an environment where offenders can take responsibility for their actions.
    • RJ helps offenders face those who have been affected by their behaviour, understand the impact of their actions, and take steps to address the harm they caused.
    • Offenders who participate in restorative processes can be accountable to victims and communities in a number of meaningful ways, depending on the restorative model used. This may include acknowledging the harm done to the victim, providing an apology, or fulfilling the conditions of an agreement between the participants. These agreements sometimes include conditions such as having the offender pay restitution, undertake community service work, or participate in counseling or treatment programs.
  • RJ empowers communities to play a role in responding to crime in a way that is meaningful to them.
    • It enables communities to talk about their values, the issues that cause crime, and concerns about community safety.

Justice Sector Messages

  • The use of RJ is supported by legislation and government policies.
    • Provisions in the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and several federal, provincial and territorial policies support RJ .
    • Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, have recognized the value of RJ .
  • RJ and the criminal justice system can complement each other.
    • RJ can be an appropriate and effective tool for responding to crime in many cases.
    • There are many opportunities to use RJ throughout the criminal justice process. We need to take advantage of these opportunities whenever we can in appropriate cases.
  • RJ is effective. Research has indicated that:
    • RJ can reduce recidivism. ii
    • Victims and offenders who participate in restorative processes report high levels of satisfaction with RJ . iii
    • Victims are substantially more likely to obtain restitution. iv
  • RJ supports justice system efficiency by supporting community agencies that handle appropriate cases.
  • RJ has been used successfully in conjunction with the criminal justice system to address some serious matters, in order to facilitate dialogue between victims and offenders who choose to participate and to assist with healing. These processes often occur after the offender has been dealt with by the courts. v

Additional Information

The following websites contain additional information that supports the Key Messages:

  • Centre for Restorative Justice. Simon Fraser University. See http://www.sfu.ca/crj/
  • Restorative Justice Online. See http://restorativejustice.org/
  • Cormier, Robert. (2002). Restorative Justice: Directions and Principles – Developments in Canada. 2002 User Report. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada. Available online at: http://www.nicic.org/Library/017800
  • Latimer, Jeff, Dowden, Craig, & Muise, Danielle. (2001). "The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis". Research and Statistics Division, Justice Canada. Available online at: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2001/rp01_1-dr01_1/p1.html
  • Public Safety Canada. (2006). "Restorative Justice and Offender Treatment". Research Summary Vol. 11 No. 6. Available online at: http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/res/cor/sum/cprs200611-eng.aspx
  • Shapland, Joanna, Atkinson, Anne, Atkinson, Helen, et al. (2008). Does Restorative Justice Affect Reconviction? Centre for Criminological Research, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/restorative-justice-report_06-08.pdf
  • Shapland, Joanna, Atkinson, Anne, Atkinson, Helen, et al. (2007). Restorative Justice: The Views of Victims and Offenders. Centre for Criminological Research, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/Restorative-Justice.pdf
  • Sherman, Lawrence, & Strang, Heather. (2007). Restorative Justice: The Evidence. London: The Smith Institute. Available online at: http://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/docs/RJ_full_report.pdf

iRestorative justice recognizes that many people can be affected when a crime occurs. The "primary victim" is the person who is directly harmed by the incident. "Secondary victims" can include family members, friends and community members who are indirectly affected.

iiSeveral studies have looked at the impact of RJ on recidivism. While results vary, it has been found that RJ reduces recidivism by up to 12%. See Bonta, J., Jesseman, R., Rugge, T., & Cormier, R. (2006). "Restorative Justice and Recidivism: Promises Made, Promises Kept?" In D. Sullivan & L. Tifft (Eds.), Handbook of Restorative Justice: A Global Perspective (pp. 108-120). New York, NY: Routledge.

iiiLatimer, Jeff, Dowden, Craig, & Muise, Danielle. (2005). "The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-analysis." The Prison Journal 85: 127-144. See also Shapland, Joanna, Atkinson, Anne, Atkinson, Helen, et al. (2007). Restorative Justice: The Views of Victims and Offenders. Centre for Criminological Research, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/Restorative-Justice.pdf

ivLatimer, Jeff, Dowden, Craig, & Muise, Danielle. (2005). "The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-analysis." The Prison Journal 85: 127-144.

vSee Roberts, Tim, and Focus Consultants. (1995). Evaluation of the Victim Offender Mediation Project, Langley, B.C., Final Report. Prepared for the Solicitor General of Canada. See also Rugge, T., Bonta, J., & Wallace-Capretta, S. (2005). Evaluation of the Collaborative Justice Project: A Restorative Justice Program for Serious Crime. Ottawa: Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, User Report 2005-02. Additionally, see Umbreit, Mark, & Coates, Robert, et al. (2002). "Victim Offender Dialogue in Crimes of Severe Violence: A Multi-Site Study of Programs in Texas and Ohio". Centre for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. Available online at: http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ssw/rjp/Resources/RJ_Dialogue_Resources/VSOD_Severe_Violence/Exec_Sum_TX_OH_VOD_CSV.pdf