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Restorative justice in the criminal justice system

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Health Factors

Restorative justice in the criminal justice system uses victim and offender dialogue to address the harm caused by a crime as well as victims’ experiences, interests and needs (). This approach can be practiced using sharing circles, victim-offender mediation, or facilitated face-to-face conferences that include victims, offenders, their families, friends, and other community members. Restorative justice can occur throughout the criminal justice process, from pre-arrest to post-sentence, and can take place in settings such as prisons, therapeutic facilities, and communities (Daly 2016, ). Judges may consider reducing some offenders’ sentences following restorative justice participation (Sherman 2007).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced recidivism

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased satisfaction with justice process

  • Reduced post-traumatic stress

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that restorative justice in the criminal justice system reduces recidivism (Campbell-Strang 2013, , Sherman 2015, Sherman 2007). For juvenile offenders, effects on recidivism appear strongest when restorative justice practices are implemented with researcher involvement and high fidelity to tested models (, ).

Victims of crime who participate in restorative justice efforts have greater levels of satisfaction with the justice process than those who participate in the traditional justice process (Campbell-Strang 2013, ). Restorative justice conferencing can also reduce victims’ post-traumatic stress symptoms (Sherman 2015, , ).

Offenders who participate in restorative justice appear more likely to comply with restitution requirements than those who participate in the traditional justice system (). In some circumstances, offenders report greater levels of satisfaction with the restorative justice process than the traditional justice process (, Sherman 2007).

Victim-offender mediation appears to reduce juvenile recidivism (). Arizona-based studies indicate that juvenile offenders in restorative justice conferencing are less likely to reoffend than peers in a traditional diversion program (, ); effects are greater for girls and youth with few prior offenses than boys and youth with more prior offenses (). First-time juvenile offenders who participate in restorative justice programs may be less likely to reoffend than peers in the traditional justice system (); additional evidence is needed to confirm effects (Cochrane-Livingstone 2013).

Researchers suggest that police-led conferences and in-person requests to victims support victim participation in restorative justice conferences (Sherman 2007). Victim-centered practice, open and respectful interactions in a safe environment, and facilitator training also support effective restorative justice for youth ().

A Washington-based analysis estimates that restorative justice conferencing cost about $1,080 per participant in 2016, with a benefit to cost ratio of $3.49 (WSIPP-Benefit cost).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Restorative justice has been implemented in some states, such as Illinois (IBARJ), and in many American Indian and Alaskan Native communities (Tribal Youth-RJ). City-level efforts are also underway in many communities, including Baltimore’s Community Conferencing Center (CCC-Baltimore), Brooklyn’s Common Justice (CJ-Brooklyn), and Minneapolis’ victim-offender mediation program (OJJDP Model Programs).

Implementation Resources

CJR-RJ - Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR). Restorative Justice (RJ).

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Latimer 2005* - Latimer J, Dowden C, Muise D. The effectiveness of restorative justice practices: A meta-analysis. The Prison Journal. 2005;85(2):127–44.

Sherman 2007 - Sherman LW, Strang H. Restorative justice: The evidence. London, UK: Smith Institute; 2007.

Nugent 2004* - Nugent WR, Williams M, Umbreit MS. Participation in victim-offender mediation and the prevalence of subsequent delinquent behavior: A meta-analysis. Research on Social Work Practice. 2004;14(6):408–16.

Schwalbe 2012* - Schwalbe CS, Gearing RE, MacKenzie MJ, Brewer KB, Ibrahim R. A meta-analysis of experimental studies of diversion programs for juvenile offenders. Clinical Psychology Review. 2012;32(1):26–33.

Rodriguez 2007* - Rodriguez N. Restorative justice at work: Examining the impact of restorative justice resolutions on juvenile recidivism. Crime & Delinquency. 2007;53(3):355–79.

WSIPP-Benefit cost - Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP). Benefit-cost results.

Campbell-Strang 2013 - Strang H, Sherman LW, Mayo-Wilson E, Woods D, Ariel B. Restorative justice conferencing (RJC) using face-to-face meetings of offenders and victims: Effects on offender recidivism and victim satisfaction: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2013:12.

Cochrane-Livingstone 2013 - Livingstone N, Macdonald G, Carr N. Restorative justice conferencing for reducing recidivism in young offenders (aged 7 to 21) (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013;(2):CD008898.

Choi 2012* - Choi JJ, Bazemore G, Gilbert MJ. Review of research on victims’ experiences in restorative justice: Implications for youth justice. Children and Youth Services Review. 2012;34(1):35–42.

Koss 2014* - Koss MP. The RESTORE Program of restorative justice for sex crimes: Vision, process, and outcomes. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2014;29(9):1623–1660.

Sherman 2015 - Sherman LW, Strang H, Barnes G, et al. Twelve experiments in restorative justice: The Jerry Lee program of randomized trials of restorative justice conferences. Journal of Experimental Criminology. 2015;11(4):501–540.

Angel 2014* - Angel CM, Sherman LW, Strang H, et al. Short-term effects of restorative justice conferences on post-traumatic stress symptoms among robbery and burglary victims: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Experimental Criminology. 2014;10(3):291–307.

Hipple 2014* - Hipple NK, Gruenewald J, McGarrell EF. Restorativeness, procedural justice, and defiance as predictors of reoffending of participants in family group conferences. Crime & Delinquency. 2014;60(8):1131–1157.

Bergseth 2013* - Bergseth KJ, Bouffard JA. Examining the effectiveness of a restorative justice program for various types of juvenile offenders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 2013;57(9):1054-1075.

De Beus 2007* - De Beus K, Rodriguez N. Restorative justice practice: An examination of program completion and recidivism. Journal of Criminal Justice. 2007;35(3):337-347.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

OJJDP Model Programs - Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). OJJDP model programs guide.

Tribal Youth-RJ - Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Tribal Youth Program: Restorative justice practices (RJ).

IBARJ - Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice (IBARJ). Strengthening community through restorative justice.

CCC-Baltimore - Community Conferencing Center (CCC). Baltimore, MD.

CJ-Brooklyn - Vera Institute of Justice. Common Justice (CJ).

Date Last Updated

Mar 24, 2017