Restorative justice is based on repairing the harm done by wrongdoing. Offenders take responsibility for what they have done. Quakers respond to this approach, because it speaks to the good in everyone, and can bring about healing for victims, offenders and the community. The concerns of the victim and the community are considered alongside the need to reintegrate the offender into society. Restorative justice enables all parties with a stake in the justice process to participate fruitfully in it.
Quakers have been advocating restorative justice since the late 1970s. British Quakers included the following two statements in ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’ then.
In personal relationships and in the broader context of community and international affairs a positive response to aberrant or destructive behaviour through reconciliation, restitution and reparation may take longer but it will be more likely to encourage the good in all parties, restore those who are damaged, reduce resentment and bitterness, and enable all those involved to move towards fuller integration (section 23.102)
Restitution ... accepts the reality of what has happened and the right of the sufferer to 'have something done about it'. It accepts that the perpetrator is in most cases feeling guilty, or at least humiliated to have been detected. But it offers him or her an opportunity to regain the good opinion of the sufferer and the community, and to be seen as a person who can give as well as take away, who can right wrongs as well as cause them... (section 23.103)
Societies make distinctions between what is ‘criminal’ and what is ‘ordinary wrongdoing’, and treat the perpetrators of the two kinds of wrongdoing differently. If a harmful act is in the ‘ordinary wrongdoing’ category, we usually consider it can be made up for by apologising to the individuals or groups actually harmed, repairing the damage inflicted and promising to avoid further offending. On the other hand, if a harmful act is in the criminal category, society conventionally thinks that punishing the offender is the solution. Yet definitions of what is a ‘crime’, and what is ‘ordinary wrongdoing’ vary across countries, and over time within countries. So the same act can be treated differently at different times and places. Restorative justice approaches aim to apply methods of dealing with ‘ordinary wrongdoing’ to at least some ‘criminal’ acts.
The western criminal justice system’s approach to justice has important strengths but also weaknesses. Victims, offenders and community members often feel that justice does not adequately meet their needs. Justice professionals – judges, lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers and prison staff – often express a sense of frustration as well. Many feel that the justice process deepens societal wounds and conflicts rather than contributing to healing or peace. Society is discouraged from addressing the conflicts, social problems and social disparities that give rise to acts of harmful wrongdoing, as crime has this artificial border around it.
Restorative justice is an attempt to meet some of these needs and limitations. Since the 1970s a variety of programmes have developed in thousands of communities and many countries throughout the world. Often these are offered as choices within or alongside the existing legal system. Quakers are involved in many of these.
Starting in 1989 however New Zealand has made restorative justice the hub of its whole juvenile justice system. It is seen by many as a sign of hope and the direction of the future. Evaluations have been done across several countries that demonstrate its effectiveness.
Restorative practice initially dealt with burglary cases but now spread to all possible crimes and conflicts. Building on the experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, efforts are made all over the world to apply a restorative justice framework to situations of mass violence. After the genocide in Rwanda, Friends there played a key part in reconciliation processes. After the post election violence in Kenya in 2007, Kenyan Quakers were active in a similar way.
These approaches and practices are also spreading beyond the criminal justice system to schools.