Restorative justice in the criminal justice system

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 needs1. 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 communities2, 3. Judges may consider reducing some offenders’ sentences following restorative justice participation4.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced recidivism

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased satisfaction with justice process

  • Reduced post-traumatic stress

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that restorative justice in the criminal justice system reduces recidivism1, 4, 5, 6. For juvenile offenders, effects on recidivism appear strongest when restorative justice practices are implemented with researcher involvement and high fidelity to tested models7, 8.

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 process1, 5. Restorative justice conferencing can also reduce victims’ post-traumatic stress symptoms3, 6, 9.

Offenders who participate in restorative justice appear more likely to comply with restitution requirements than those who participate in the traditional justice system1. In some circumstances, offenders report greater levels of satisfaction with the restorative justice process than the traditional justice process1, 4.

Victim-offender mediation appears to reduce juvenile recidivism10. Arizona-based studies indicate that juvenile offenders in restorative justice conferencing are less likely to reoffend than peers in a traditional diversion program11, 12; effects are greater for girls and youth with few prior offenses than boys and youth with more prior offenses11. First-time juvenile offenders who participate in restorative justice programs may be less likely to reoffend than peers in the traditional justice system13; additional evidence is needed to confirm effects14.

Researchers suggest that police-led conferences and in-person requests to victims support victim participation in restorative justice conferences4. Victim-centered practice, open and respectful interactions in a safe environment, and facilitator training also support effective restorative justice for youth15.

A Washington-based analysis estimates that restorative justice conferencing cost about $1,080 per participant in 2016, with a benefit to cost ratio of $3.4916.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Restorative justice has been implemented in some states, such as Illinois17, and in many American Indian and Alaska Native communities18. City-level efforts are also underway in many communities, including Baltimore’s Community Conferencing Center19, Brooklyn’s Common Justice20, and Minneapolis’ victim-offender mediation program21.

Implementation Resources

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


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1 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.

2 Daly 2016 - Daly K. What is restorative justice? Fresh answers to a vexed question. Victims & Offenders. 2016;11(1):9–29.

3 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.

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

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.

14 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.

15 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.

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

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

18 Tribal Youth-RJ - Tribal Youth Resource Center, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Archived webinars - Philosophy and practice: Restorative justice and restorative approaches in tribal communities (RJ).

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

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

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