What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is a philosophical approach to wrongdoing that focuses on the needs of the victim and the offender, as well as the involved community. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against relationships, rather than the state or school. Restorative approaches involve working WITH the participants not prescribing or directing a response to wrongdoing. Restorative justice practices are not prescriptive and require training and support for facilitators so there may be flexibility and creativity within the framework. Yet fidelity to restorative justice principles and values must be adhered to regardless of the model deployed. These practices foster dialogue between victim and offender and often engage affected community members. Restorative justice practices show high rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability. There are a wide variety of models within the scope of restorative justice practices. However, they all rest in a set of values principles that are fundamental to any restorative justice practice.

Traditional Criminal Justice Asks

  1. What laws have been broken?
  2. Who did it?
  3. What punishment do they deserve?

Restorative Justice Asks

  1. Who has been hurt?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. Whose obligation is it to meet those needs?

Restorative Justice is:

  • Rooted in the values and principles of restorative justice practices (The 5 R’s)
  • Contact is made with victims and offenders of the crime the process will address
  • Victims choose to be present, represented by a surrogate or other means and may provide an impact statement
  • Invite voluntary participation from directly impacted parties
  • All parties are willing for the incident to be handled restoratively and be represented or present.
  • Community is represented when appropriate
  • Facilitated by trained facilitators adhering to the Colorado Facilitator Code of Conduct and Standards of Practice
  • Be conducted in circles with no tables/barriers to the extent possible
  • Focus is repair of harm

Restorative Justice Values and Principles

The 5 R’s of Restorative Justice Practices


Restorative practices recognize that when a wrong occurs, individuals and communities feel violated. It is the damage to these relationships that is primarily important and is the central focus of what restorative practices seek to address. When relationships are strong, people experience more fulfilling lives, and communities become places where we want to live. Relationships may be mended through the willingness to be accountable for one’s actions and to make repair of harms done.


Respect is the key ingredient that holds the container for all restorative practices, and it is what keeps the process safe. It is essential that all persons in a restorative process be treated with respect. One way we acknowledge respect is that participation in a restorative process is always optional. Every person is expected to show respect for others and for themselves. Restorative processes require deep listening, done in a way that does not presume we know what the speaker is going to say, but that we honor the importance of the other’s point of view. Our focus for listening is to understand other people, so, even if we disagree with their thinking, we can be respectful and try hard to comprehend how it seems to them.


For restorative practices to be effective, personal responsibility must be taken. Each person needs to take responsibility for any harm that was caused to another, admitting any wrong that was done, even if it was unintentional. Taking responsibility also includes a willingness to give an explanation of the harmful behavior. All persons in the circle are asked to search deeply in their hearts and minds to discover if there is any part of the matter at hand for which they have some responsibility. Everyone needs to be willing to accept responsibility for his or her own behavior and the impacts it has on other individuals and the community as a whole.


The restorative approach is to repair the harm that was done, and the underlying causes, to the fullest extent possible, recognizing that harm may extend beyond anyone’s capacity for repair. Once the persons involved have accepted responsibility for their behavior and they have heard in the restorative process about how others were harmed by their action, they are expected to make repair. This allows us to set aside thoughts of revenge and punishment. It is essential that all stakeholders in the event be involved in identifying the harm and having a voice in how it will be repaired. It is through taking responsibility for one’s own behavior and making repair that persons may regain or strengthen their self-respect and the respect of others.


For the restorative process to be complete, persons who may have felt alienated must be accepted into the community. Reintegration is realized when all persons have put the hurt behind them and moved into a new role in the community. This new role recognizes their worth and the importance of the new learning that has been accomplished. The person having shown him or herself to be an honorable person through acceptance of responsibility and repair of harm has transformed the hurtful act. At the reintegration point, all parties are back in right relationship with each other and with the community. This reintegration process is the final step in achieving wholeness.


Colorado law defines restorative justice practices as “practices that emphasize repairing the harm caused to victims and the community by offenses.” Practices that emphasize meeting the needs of victims are considered “victim-centered.” Practices that are initiated by victims or family survivors are considered “victim-initiated.” These terms sometimes overlap. Being victim-centered means holding the care and concern for the victim as the primary consideration. It is important that victims have choice, safety, and support when considering and participating in a restorative justice process. This includes choice about whether, when, and how to participate; physical and emotional safety during all interactions; and the support of a qualified facilitator with training in the needs of crime victims.

Restorative Justice Models and Practices


A conference is a structured meeting between offenders, victims and both parties’ select support people like family and friends and may involve affected community members, in which they deal to address the harm of the crime and decide how best to repair it. A conference is neither counseling nor a mediation process. It is a victim-sensitive, straightforward problem-solving method that demonstrates how communities can resolve their own problems when provided with a constructive forum to do so. (O’Connell, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 1999).

Conferences provide victims and others impacted by a crime with an opportunity to meet directly with the offender, to express their feelings, ask questions and to have a say in how harm is repaired. Offenders hear firsthand how their behavior has affected people. Conferences hold offenders accountable while providing them with an opportunity to discard the “offender” label and be reintegrated into their community, school or workplace (Morris and Maxwell, 2001).

The Conference Process:
  • Participation in a conference is voluntary.
  • An offender qualifies for a conference by taking responsibility for their part of an incident.
  • After it is determined that a conference is appropriate, and the offender and the victim have agreed to attend, the conference facilitators invite others affected by the incident–family and friends of both the victim and the offender and impacted community members.
  • The conference facilitator follows a set format or guide and keeps the process on focus but is not an active participant.
  • In the conference the facilitator asks the offender to tell what they did and what they were thinking about when they did it.
  • The facilitator then asks the victim and their family members and friends to express the incident from their perspective and how it affected them.
  • The offender’s family and friends are asked to do the same.
  • Finally, the victim is asked what they need in order for the harm to be repaired to the extent possible.
  • Everyone else at the conference can contribute ideas for repair of harm and learning.
  • When agreement is reached, a contract or agreement is written and signed (O’Connell, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 1999).
  • The offender is then held accountable to complete the contract within the agreed upon time frame.

A restorative justice conference can be used in lieu of the traditional justice system or school-based disciplinary system, or as a supplement to those two systems.

Victim Offender Dialogue

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Victim Offender Dialogue is usually a face-to-face meeting, between the victim of a crime and the person who committed that crime with the presence of a trained facilitator. In this restorative justice process, the facilitator ensures the safety of the dialog by setting ground rules for the process and holding all parties accountable to those ground rules. The basic dialog between the offender and victim may explore what happened, who was affected and how and gives voice to the most directly involved parties. These restorative processes are best done when victim initiated. (see 20 Essential Points doc)

Dialogue is only one option for people to respond to victimization or offense.  This is an individual journey for the victim and the offender.  Their reasons for dialogue are personal.  The victims’ and offenders’ needs, expectations, level of support, level of honesty and openness determine what can be accomplished during the dialogue.


  • Directly and constructively express to the offender their current and repressed feelings such as fear, anger, anxiety, loss, pain, helplessness, hopelessness
  • Ask questions and receive answers and insights, which only offenders can provide
  • Have their voices be heard


  • Face the full human impact of their crime by hearing first-hand the depth of trauma experienced by the victim
  • Express sincere remorse related to their offense and resulting impact
  • Answer questions posed by the victim
  • Reach greater accountability by obligating themselves to their victims and communities
  • Restore, to whatever extent possible, what has been wronged within the victims’ physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and social dimensions of their everyday life.
  • Offenders participating in dialogue will not have any benefit for their status within the prison system.

The Dialogue Process:

  • The process is mutually voluntary. It can be stopped by either party or when deemed appropriate by the facilitator.
  • Confidentiality – mutual agreement of who can be told
  • The average case takes 6 months from the initial request until the day of dialogue
  • Two volunteers co-facilitate the dialogue. The role of the facilitator is to help the victim and offender through their dialogue process.
  • Preparation generally consists in general of at least three individual meetings between the victim and facilitators and the offender and facilitators before the day of dialogue with the victim, offender and facilitators.
  • The process involves preparing each party and managing expectations of the dialogue. As the process advances there are four phases that participants walk through.

High Impact – Victim Offender Dialogue

In addition to the basic definition of Dialogue HI-VOD has established protocols and procedures to ensure a safe, quality process for the dialogue. These may take place in prisons, detention centers or other locations where safety is potentially of concern. The following are some important protocols:

  • Cases of high-impact must be victim initiated. The facilitator process is victim centered and offender sensitive.
  • Cases of HI-VOD include, but are not limited to, the following crimes of violence: Murder in the first degree, Murder in the second degree, Manslaughter, Criminally negligent homicide, Vehicular assault, Assault in the first degree, Assault in the second degree, Assault in the third degree, Vehicular homicide, Menacing, First degree kidnapping, Second degree kidnapping, Robbery, Aggravated robbery and Child abuse.
  • Offenders with multiple charges may be considered for HI-VOD when the request is victim initiated.
  • Prior to accepting an HI-VOD case a facilitator should have successfully completed a 40 hour HI-VOD training along with any applicable agency specific training.

Understanding that victims may not always wish to meet face-to-face with the person who committed a violent crime, options may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • A victim may wish to ask questions of the offender. If the offender is willing to participate, the facilitator will work with the victim in understanding their needs and clarifying the questions that will best meet those needs. The questions can be given to an offender by the facilitator who will then share the results with the victim.
  • A victim may wish to write a statement. If the offender is willing to receive a statement, the facilitator will work with the victim to ensure the statements accurately reflects what he/she would like to say. The facilitator will share the statement with the offender and share the results with the victim.
  • A victim may appoint a representative of his/her choice to participate in the HRVOD. The facilitator would work with both the victim and his/her appointed representative in preparing for the dialogue.
  • An offender of a similar crime may be selected to meet with a victim who initiated the request.
  • Any surrogate should be chosen by the victim, at the request of the victim and have been fully prepared by the facilitator.


A restorative circle is a versatile restorative justice practice that fosters cooperation and responsibility in group situations with mutual responsibilities identified. A restorative circle often doesn’t specify victims and offenders.

The circle is a process that brings together individuals who wish to engage in conflict resolution, or other activities in which honest communications, relationship development, and community building are core desired outcomes. Circles offer an alternative to contemporary meeting processes that often rely on hierarchy, win-lose positioning, and victim/rescuer approaches to relationships and problem solving (Roca, Inc.).

In a restorative circle, one person speaks at a time: The opportunity to speak moves around the circle, and people wait to speak until the person before them has finished speaking. The chance to speak continues moving around the circle as many times as necessary, until everyone has said what they need to say. A “talking piece” is often used to facilitate this process: Whoever is holding the talking piece has the “floor.” Both the restorative circle and the talking piece have roots in ancient and indigenous practices (Mirsky, 2004, April & May; Roca, Inc.).

Each person is encouraged to take responsibility for his or her part in what happened and co-create what will happen next.  (Note: The process should not imply that the victim has responsibility in the crime committed against them. Victim blaming must be avoided at all costs).

ReThinking Drinking

This program uses a restorative circle approach to teach young offenders’ accountability, to develop an awareness of the impact their behavior has on their families and the community, and to take responsibility for their actions.  In several jurisdictions, this program is offered as an alternative to a first minor in possession charge. The circle, which includes two 3-hour sessions, must be attended by the juvenile and two parents, guardians, or supportive adults. There are typically 4-5 youth/adult combinations in the circle.  Additionally, there are 1-2 community member representatives in the circle to help raise awareness of the impact underage possession has on the community. Circles focus on raising awareness of the impact of alcohol or other substances on the developing brain, helping youth to identify where they could have made different decisions rather than drinking, and, ultimately, on the impact that their actions had on self, family and community. Following the circle sessions, each youth will have five weeks to complete a personalized action plan to further address the impact their decisions have on self, family, and community.


A restorative justice group process designed to address the harm caused by shoplifting theft in a manner that:

  • Does not create unwanted pressure on victims
  • Supports education and accountability for offenders
  • Includes a strong community voice in defining the harm caused by shoplifting theft and the path forward to better choices
  • Allows RJ programs to manage large numbers of shoplifting cases

The RESTORE Program includes an intake and pre-session accountability interview with each offender, which includes referrals to community resources when appropriate. The offender and parent then attend (together) a 4-hour RESTORE session. The session includes: a victim/community impact panel, an RJ conference, and a supported conversation about the contract to repair the harm. The offender and parent then make choices in the accountability contract and sign up to return for a completion interview 1-2 months later. Each RJ circle should have at minimum: 2-4 offenders and parents (co-defendants are together), 1 trained RJ facilitator, 1 trained merchant representative, 1 trained RJ community member and 1 peer representative.

The RESTORE accountability contract provides a menu of choices for repairing the harm in the categories of giving back to the victim and community and giving back to the self and family. While there is a menu, the offender and family can make choices and/or create their own options in all areas of the contract. Circle participants give suggestions and input on the contract, but the offender and parent make the final choice. The RESTORE completion interview is held individually with each offender and support people by a team of volunteers. When the offender completes successfully, the interview is a way for community to acknowledge success in making things right with the community. He/she is then encouraged to put the incident behind and move forward in life.

Family Group Decision Making

FGDM is a family centered process that recognizes the importance of involving family groups in decision making about children who need protection or care. FGDM can be initiated by child welfare agencies whenever a critical decision about a child is required. In FGDM processes, a trained coordinator who is independent of the case brings together the family group and members. The processes position the family group to lead decision making and the agency agrees to support family group plans that adequately address the agency’s concerns for child safety, wellbeing, and permanency.


A meeting where victim representatives and/or members of the community sit on a panel and speak to offenders about the impacts of crime on the community. Boards/Panels are typically composed of a small group of citizens, prepared for this function by intensive training, who conduct public, face-to-face meetings with offenders who have been sentenced by the court to participate in the process or who have been referred by police officers on a pre-charge basis or as part of a peripheral, extra-judicial process.

Victims of the offender are invited to participate in the process by meeting with the board and offender, or by submitting a written statement that is shared with the offender and the board. During a meeting, board members discuss with the offender, the nature of the offense, impact of the behavior, and negative consequences. Then board members discuss a set of actions with the offender, until they reach agreement on the specific actions the offender will take within a given time period to make reparation for the crime.

Subsequently, the offender must document his or her progress in fulfilling the terms of the agreement. After the stipulated period of time has passed, the board submits a report to the court on the offender’s compliance or a written documentation to the referring police officer, with the agreed upon sanctions. At this point, the board’s involvement with the offender is ended.

ReEntry Circles/Transition Circles

Restorative ReEntry Circles/Transition Circles are provided for imprisoned individuals who are returning to a community. The person returning to life outside of incarceration will meet with community members, their families and friends in a group process to address their needs for a successful transition back into the community. One of the needs addressed is the need for reconciliation.  A Modified Restorative Circle has also been developed and used in Hawaii for individual incarcerated people whose loved ones are unable or unwilling to attend full Restorative Reentry Circles. Instead other imprisoned friends sit in the Circle and are supporters in developing a transition plan that includes how the incarcerated individual having the Circle may reconcile with those harmed by the crime and/or imprisonment.

Circles of Support and Accountability

Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) originated as a project of the “Welcome In,” (a Mennonite church in Hamilton, Ontario). This innovation is now an internationally regarded, evidence-based practice with a demonstrated capacity to enhance the safe integration of otherwise high-risk sex offenders with their community. In Canada, some sex offenders are released to the community after serving their entire sentence.

These offenders have been judged too dangerous to be released on any form of conditional release (e.g. a parole certificate), and have therefore been “detained.” Upon further reconviction (and therefore, further victimization), many of these offenders would likely be designated as a “Dangerous Offender,” under current Canadian law.

Prior to 1994 many of these offenders were released without any form of meaningful community-based support or accountability network apart from police surveillance. Since 1994, CoSA has assisted with the integration of well over 120 such offenders by offering them support while holding them accountable. Research now indicates that surrounding a ‘core member’ with between 5 and 7 carefully selected and trained volunteer circle members significantly reduce sexual re-offence by upwards of 50%. Further, a significant “harm reduction” effect has also been noted in those cases where sexual re-offence has occurred. Offences were less invasive and less brutal in nature than previous offences. CoSA projects now exist in every Canadian province and every major urban centre. CoSA projects are also operational in several U.S. states (California, Oregon, Ohio, Colorado, Vermont) as well as in the Thames Valley region of the United Kingdom.

School-Based Restorative Practices

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]An approach to school discipline that focuses primarily on relationships and secondarily on rules, gives voice to the person(s) harmed, gives voice to the person(s) who caused harm, engages in collaborative problem solving, enhances responsibility, empowers change and growth, and plans for restoration. School-based restorative practice models include: whole school training, reintegration meetings following suspensions or expulsions, class meetings, circles, conferencing, truancy mediation, and some bullying prevention approaches.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Connection Circles

Connection Circles are a relationship building process that can be used at any point along the spectrum of restorative practices. They are used to promote understanding, share experiences, build relationship and establish circle practice.

The role of the Connection Circle leader is:

  • To introduce the connection circle and talking piece
  • To identify and uphold the ground rules
  • To ask the question that the round is based upon
  • To listen actively while people are speaking and model the ground rules
  • To close the circle and thank everyone for their participation


A restorative class is based in and teaches the values and principles of restorative justice practices in order for participants to view their offense through a restorative lens and make better choices moving forward.

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