Restorative Justice: Overview and Program Synopsis

Restorative Justice: Overview and Program Synopsis

A brief overview of the Restorative Process…

Restorative justice (RJ) is a systematic response to wrongdoing that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities impacted by criminal behaviors or activities. Restorative justice does not determine guilt, nor does it act as a substitute for the traditional Judicial System. The restorative justice process generally takes place after prosecution and prior to sentencing; legal officials often initiate the RJ process through referral.

RJ views the response to criminal behavior with a wider lens, encompassing the victim and the community in the justice process—rather than just the offender and the government.

While the State and legal professionals determine guilt and carry out offender accountability, the restorative justice process focuses on outcomes that account for the damage incurred upon the victim and the community. RJ provides a method for the willing offender to rectify his/her crime and again become a contributing member of the community.

Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:

  • identifying and taking steps to repair harm,
  • involving all stakeholders, and
  • transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime by including the community and the victim in the justice process.

Restorative programs can be characterized by four key elements:

  1. Encounter :  Create opportunities for victims, offenders and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime and its aftermath
  2. Amends :  Expect offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have caused
  3. Reintegration :  Seek to restore victims and offenders as whole, contributing members of society
  4. Inclusion :  Provide opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime to participate in its resolution

The Winter Center offers certification and participation in the following areas:


A trained mediator facilitates a meeting between the victim and offender. With the assistance of the mediator, the victim and offender begin to resolve the conflict and to construct their own approach to achieving justice in the face of their particular crime. Both are given the opportunity to express their feelings and perceptions of the offense (which often dispels misconceptions.) The meetings conclude with an attempt to reach agreement on steps the offender will take to repair the harm suffered by the victim and in other ways to “make things right”.  This is formalized by a written agreement committed to and signed by all participants.

Participation by the victim is voluntary. The offender’s participation is usually characterized as voluntary as well, although it should be recognized that participation can (and should) influence sentencing.

The process typically involves four phases: case referral and intake, preparation for mediation, the mediation itself and any follow up necessary (e.g., enforcement of restitution agreement).

Case Referral

Often, a case is referred to VOM after a conviction or formal admission of guilt in court; but some cases are diverted prior to such a disposition in an attempt to avoid prosecution.


The mediator then contacts the victim and offender to make sure that both are appropriate for mediation. In particular, the mediator seeks assurances that both parties are psychologically capable of making the mediation a constructive experience, that the victim will not be further harmed by the meeting with the offender, and that both parties understand that participation is voluntary.

Preparation for Mediation

The parties then meet to identify the injustice, rectify the harm (to make things right or restore equity), and to establish payment/monitoring schedules.

Mediation and Follow Up

Both parties present their version of the events leading up to and the circumstances surrounding the crime. The victim has a chance to speak about the personal dimensions of victimization and loss, while the offender has a chance to express remorse and to explain circumstances surrounding his/her behavior. Then the parties agree on the particular nature and extent of the harm caused by the crime in order to identify the acts necessary to repair the injury to the victim. The terms of the agreed reparation (e.g., restitution, in-kind services, etc.) are reduced to writing, along with payment and monitoring schedules. This constitutes the written agreement which is signed by both parties.


Conferencing programs are similar to victim-offender reconciliation/mediation programs, in that they involve the victim and offender in an extended conversation about the crime and its consequences. However, conferencing programs also include the participation of families, community support groups, police, social welfare officials and attorneys in addition to the victim and offender.

Important to this program is recognition of the constructive value of “reintegrative shame” (as opposed to disintegrative shame or stigmatization), whereby the community denounces the offender’s conduct as unacceptable but affirms their commitment to the offender and their active desire to reintegrate him/her back into society.

Conferencing is used only when the offender admits guilt (or admits liability or declines to deny guilt). It is not used to determine guilt, and at any time during the process the offender may choose to bring the conference to a halt and proceed to court for a traditional determination of guilt or innocence.

During preparation, a trained facilitator receives a referral report and consults with juvenile justice officials to become familiar with the case. This gives the facilitator the opportunity to become acquainted with the parties and to identify and discuss any needs of the parties and purposes of the conference.

During the conference, the offender begins by telling his/her side of the story, with the victim subsequently doing likewise. Both then have a chance to express their feelings about the events and circumstances surrounding the crime. Each may direct questions to one another, followed by questions posed by their respective families. The offender and his/her family then meet privately to discuss reparation, thereafter presenting an offer to the victim and others in attendance. Negotiations continue in the group until consensus is reached. The agreement is put to writing with payment/monitoring schedules included.

In the post-conference phase, the facilitator monitors completion of the agreement and locates needed resources for youth or family. If the agreement cannot be successfully completed with the facilitator’s intervention, the case is returned to the courts for further action.


This program is based on the “Circles” found in the Native American cultures of the United States and Canada, and are for many purposes. Their adaptation to the criminal justice system developed in the 1980s as First Nations peoples of the Yukon and local justice officials attempted to build closer ties between the community and the formal justice system. In 1991, Judge Barry Stuart of the Yukon Territorial Court introduced the sentencing circle as a means of sharing the justice process with the community ( Bazemore and Umbreit 1999:6 ; Crnkovich 1995:3; Coates et. al. 2000:4)

As with the restorative processes of mediation and conferencing, circles provide a space for encounter between the victim and the offender, but it moves beyond that to involve the community in the decision making process. The community participants may range from justice system personnel to anyone in the community concerned about the crime. Everyone present, the victim, victim’s family, the offender, offender’s family, and community representatives are given a voice in the proceedings. Participants typically speak as they pass a “talking piece” around the circle.

The process is value driven. Primarily, it is designed to bring healing and understanding to the victim and the offender. Reinforcing this goal of healing is the empowerment of the community to be involved in deciding what is to be done in the particular case and to address underlying problems that may have led to the crime. In reaching these goals, the circle process builds on the values of respect, honesty, listening, truth, sharing and others.

Participation in the circle is voluntary. The victim must agree to attend without any form of coercion. The offender accepts his/her guilt in the matter and agrees to be referred to the circle.  A “keeper”, who directs the movement of the talking piece, leads each circle. Only the person holding the object is allowed to speak, ensuring that each person has an opportunity to be heard.

As the talking piece makes the rounds of the circle, the group discusses different topics. In addressing the crime, participants describe how they feel. For the offender, this includes why he/she committed the crime. For the victim and each of the community participants, the circle provides an opportunity to explain the impact the crime has economically, physically, and emotionally. Through this process of sharing the participants are able to develop a strategy for addressing the crime (i.e. restitution, or community service) and the causes of the crime.

The offender must apply to go to a circle in the first stage. Several factors are considered important here such as willingness to change, stake in the community and support system.

When a case is sent to the sentencing circle, both the offender and the victim are prepared. This is done by informing the victim and offender of what will occur in the circle, listening to the experiences of the victim and offender and informing them of who will be taking part in the circle. Sometimes a series of circles will take place in resolving particular problems. After the offender applies to be sent to a circle, separate healing circles are held for the victim and offender. After the healing circles, a sentencing circle determines the kind of response expected of the offender, although it may also contain commitments by the justice system, community, and family members involved. The final stage consists of circles of support that track the progress of the plan of action.



The concept of “Restorative Mentoring” was first piloted in California in 1985. 

The program involves a ‘triune’ of mentors who target educational, employment and socialization needs.  Many times, deficiencies in these areas were the major contributing factors in choices leading up to criminal activity. Originally, their crime may have been an impulsive or desperate act of survival.

The earning of a G.E.D. or High School diploma, additional training with certification and vocational/employment placement offer an alternative means of support.  Instruction in social responsibility and the modification of anti-social behaviors equip former-offenders for participation in the same society form which they once felt excluded and rejected.

Teacher or Trainer

P.O.*  or O.W.D.S.*

Development of Self Efficacy and Locus of Control

Barrier Reduction and Life/Skills Management

Education, Certification and Employment

* Denotes Department of Corrections professional.


We offer programs that provide services to victims as they recover from the crime and proceed through the criminal justice process including:

Rights Advocacy                     Psychological Services           Life Opportunities

Material Services                    Faith and Community Reiteration  


We offer programs to provide educational and employment services to offenders to ensure that they can use their skills to contribute to society. Quality employment and GED+ education allows participants to support themselves, their dependants and honor restitution agreements to victims.


The Winter Center advocates four basic types of restitution programs: restitution imposed as an obligation within victim-witness assistance programs organized by prosecutors; Victim Offender Restitution Programs (V.O.R.P.s) organized by nonprofit community support groups seeking restitution as an outcome of a reconciliatory process; restitution/employment programs operated by probation departments; and restitution as part of a routine probation supervision program.

In its traditional sense, restitution has been defined as “a monetary payment by the offender to the victim for the harm reasonably resulting from the offense” (Galaway and Hudson, 1990 at 34-35). Restitution can embody both monetary payments and in-kind services to the victim ( Van Ness and Strong, 1997). According to Black’s Law Dictionary (1968), restitution is an “Act of restoring; restoration of anything to its rightful owner; the act of making good or giving equivalent for any loss, damage or injury; and indemnification” [1477].

Restitution  serves to commemorate the gesture of reparation and acknowledgment of wrongdoing (Danieli, 1992 at 210-211). Instead of completely ignoring the harm done to individual victims, restitution acknowledges and attempts to repair the injury they have suffered. Whereas retributive and rehabilitative responses fail to address the harm inflicted on victims, restitution (when sought as an outcome of a restorative process) has as its primary motivation reparation to the victim. Thus, restitution is said to better satisfy a victim’s need for vindication, as the offender must personally acknowledge and account for the offense (Bakker, 1994 at 1498).

Potentially, for the offender, restitution cannot only be less punitive, but more rehabilitative (long term) than incarceration (Weitekamp, 1992 at 83). It allows the offender to express guilt in a concrete manner. It provides an alternative sanction with far less stigmatization than incarceration (83), ultimately better facilitating reintegration. Restitution affirms the offender’s self-worth, giving him/her the opportunity to “make things right” ( Boers, 1992 at 95-99).


Community service programs for offenders began in the United States with female traffic offenders in Alameda County, California in 1966, with local initiatives following in several counties throughout the United States ( Wright, 1991 at 40).

The emphasis of community service is neither on punishment nor on rehabilitation; rather, it is on accountability (Wright, 1991 at 44). It focuses “not on offenders’ needs but their strengths; not on their lack of insight but their capacity for responsibility; not on their vulnerability to social and psychological factors but their capacity to choose” (44). These differentiate a rehabilitative response from a restorative/community service response to crime. The Winter Center stands dedicated to establishing partnerships between victims, offenders and faith-based or civic community service organizations. We also advocate and facilitate the creation of community opportunities when none exist.

We at the Winter Center use the following distinction to help maintain the reparative purposed of both restitution and community service:

“Restitution repairs the harm to the individual victim; Community Service repairs the harm to the community.”

Who the victim is—individual or community—determines the type of reparative sanction.  Distinguishing community service from restitution in this way helps prevent community service from being used as a “punitive sanction”.  If it is simply added on to the offender’s sentence, it is used as a means of punishment.  If instead, community service is used to repair the harm to the community, the risk of it being used or viewed as a “punishment” is greatly reduced.

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