Restorative justice principles

The restorative justice lens has five principles that guide processes and practices:

  • Focus on harms and consequent needs arising from the offence. Restorative justice focuses primarily on survivor needs, but also on offender and community needs, so root causes can be identified to help prevent future offences.
  • Address obligations to repair harm caused by an offence. The person who committed the crime has the primary obligation to repair harm. But the family, community and society could also have a role in repairing harm.
  • Use inclusive, collaborative processes that bring together and give a voice to all impacted parties (victims, offenders, families, community members, society).
  • Seek to put right the wrong.
  • Core value in restorative justice processes and practices is respect.

Practical implementation

In general, practical implementation of restorative justice processes requires that:

  • The offender admits the wrong and takes responsibility for his conduct.
  • The person harmed genuinely wants to engage in a restorative justice process.
  • The process can be done in a safe and supportive environment protecting all parties, especially the person harmed, from further victimization.
  • The offender is held directly accountable to the person harmed and outcomes from restorative justice processes repair the harm.
  • As much as possible, process outcomes are mutually agreed upon by the parties participating in a restorative justice process and not imposed.

Restorative justice in relation to the criminal justice system

Restorative justice is a way to resolve and repair harm caused by conflict. Restorative justice practices are adaptable and can be used at different stages of criminal proceedings or even independent of the criminal justice system. Here are examples how restorative justice could be implemented:

Before trial

After police investigation and before charges are filed, restorative justice programs can be used to divert cases away from adversarial criminal proceedings.

Example: Family conferences within the juvenile justice system. In New Zealand, legislation mandates that youth offenders are diverted to restorative justice programs as a primary option. The conference commences with the offending youth taking responsibility for the wrong and the person harmed and family discussing the offence’s impact. At the conference’s conclusion, participants create a plan which typically includes an apology, community work, victim reparation and offender rehabilitation.

After guilt is determined, but before sentencing

At the pre-sentencing phase, a judge may use conferencing to decide upon a sentence or a substitute for the sentencing process.

Example: Sentencing circles. In Canada, pre-sentencing programs bring together community members, the person who caused harm and the person harmed, if they choose, for restorative justice processes to determine sentencing. Generally, the person who caused harm must plead guilty early in proceedings and take full responsibility for the harm. A judge or prosecutor may join the circle to ensure the sentence meets the needs of the person harmed. After the sentencing circles, the judge finalizes the sentence.


Victims and community members may participate in restorative circles to address root problems of crime and increase the sense of safety in the community.

Example: Peacemaking circles. In Canada, community members hold themselves responsible to address crime occurring within their community. These circles focus on trying to uncover the underlying problems that lead to crime and restore balance where possible.


Restorative justice programs help persons who were formerly incarcerated re-enter their communities. Community groups support and hold them accountable during their transition. Without this support, they might re-offend or commit other crimes.

Example: Circles of support and accountability. Formerly incarcerated individuals, community members and sometimes even victims of similar offences come together to establish boundaries and guidelines for persons re-entering the community to have routine check-ins and maintain accountability. These community driven programs reduce stigma and fear regarding a formerly incarcerated persons presence in the community. 

Programs independent of the criminal justice system

Restorative justice programs can operate informally, independent of the criminal justice system, irrespective of whether the crime is reported to police.

Example: Healing circles for victims. Persons harmed by similar offences come together to understand the impact, process the harm, understand their needs and conceptualize ways for fulfilling these needs.