What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative Justice is difficult to define, which is what justifies this blog. We will spend posts continually exploring the concept. Partly that is because each student who goes through the program experiences it in his or her own way. Each can offer their own definition. And that is the beauty of it. 

We explain it to the kids referred to us by telling them, even the very young, to focus on the word restorative. We ask them, what gets restored? What needs restoring? Pretty quickly they answer, old homes and cars, or furniture. Some will even say reputations. If not, we just ask, can reputations be restored? They say yes, and then we ask how? They usually answer, by doing something nice or by saying sorry? And then we know they understand.

At this point I tell them that if I have done something wrong that perhaps disappoints my wife–which happens more than I would like to admit–I want to do something to make up for that. Surprise her with a home-cooked meal, buy her some flowers, something that “fits” the magnitude of the offense. That is what restorative justice is. It is a way for the child to understand, hey, we all make mistakes. And I’ll make more. What’s important is how I move on from these, whether I’ve learned from the mistake. Have I repaired the damage I may have caused, even if that damage is to myself, my pride or my self-esteem?

Restorative justice is education. Not quite like learning calculus or biology, but learning about something just as important. It teaches that our actions have consequences, and not just for ourselves. It teaches that those consequences are trying to tell us something that we need to learn in order to grow as people, as family members, as community members, and as citizens. It teaches that we are part of a greater whole, and that comes with responsibility. Most of all, it teaches that living up to that responsibility delivers great rewards.


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