Adult Restorative Justice

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Restorative justice is a practice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime by bringing victims, offenders, and community members together to reconcile how that will be done. Outcomes from the process can be transformational.

Dr. Howard Zehr, the pioneer of restorative justice in the United States, proclaims, “A restorative justice framework focuses on repairing the harm done to victims and the community through a process of negotiation, mediation, victim empowerment, and reparation. Within this framework, crime and delinquency present a unique opportunity to build relationships and reach an agreement through a collaborative process.”   Image courtesy moj.gov.jm

The process has been utilized with juvenile first time offenders and proven valuable for reducing the rate of reoffending. Recidivism is reduced from 30% using the conventional punitive system down to 8% using restorative practices with youthful offenders.

Restorative justice approaches to minor delinquency or criminal violations have gained popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere since the 1970s and are increasingly employed as responses to serious delinquency or adult criminal behaviors.

The restorative justice process traditionally involves victims and offenders confronting each other in a conference or also referred to as a circle. Both the victim and offender are voluntary participants. A facilitator and co-facilitator along with community members are also present.

Victims have the opportunity to voice the impact the crime had on him or her and how the offender will repair the harm. Offenders learn empathy by listening to the impact crime has on their victims. Everyone involved in the process collaborates on how the offender will repair the harm.

Creative forms of restorative justice are as effective as conventional methods of bringing victims and offenders together.

Restorative justice can also be effective for treating adult offenders. Recently, adult reentry programs have adapted restorative practices into their curriculum. 

The Mural Arts re-entry program located in Philadelphia provides ex-offenders with an opportunity to participate in education that will provide them with skills to contribute as productive citizens when they return to the outside world. 

Both male and female inmates within state correctional institutions and county jails create murals on the walls of prisons. Inmates participating in the Mural Arts program also create murals on fabric that are distributed and installed in communities throughout the city of Philadelphia.

The Mural Art’s reentry program also offers ex-offenders experience in landscaping and design. The innovative Philadelphia Prison System program employs inmates with part-time jobs that give them the satisfaction of improving the environment of their Philadelphia communities.

The reentry program demonstrates restorative principals because inmates are embodied with values needed to develop successful personal relationships when they are released from prison. The ex-offenders learn to treat individuals with respect and dignity. The significance of work ethics is epitomized.  

Philadelphia’s Youth Violence Reduction Partnership program restores young adults on probation with job training skills that include landscaping, mural building and restoration, and building and lot reclamation.  

Restorative Justice is a theory that can be applied to repairing the damage crime causes in the form of education as well as restorative dialog. The process is traditionally used in a conference setting to rehabilitate first time juvenile offenders.

Restorative principles that are integrated into adult reentry programs also have positive outcomes. Ex-offenders who have an opportunity to participate in reentry programs that provide employment and communication skills training are more likely to restore their lives when reentering into society. In turn, the recidivism rate is lowered.