“Restorative Justice: A Primer and Exploration of Practice Across Two North American Cities,” is a primer and tool for practitioners, researchers, advocates, lawmakers, lay people and justice professionals. It provides an overview of restorative justice philosophy, its range of practices, and the evidence behind its practices—and how restorative practices are currently integrated, funded, and applied in two very different metropolitan contexts.
Traditional criminal justice focuses on establishing culpability and punishment. In contrast, restorative justice focuses on establishing accountability and repairing the harm done when an offense is committed. It brings together affected victims, offenders, and communities to actively and consensually identify and implement steps to repair damages.
“The harsh punishment aspect of retributive justice, particularly in the United States, has created an epidemic of incarceration,” said Elena Quintana, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Adler School IPSSJ, who led the white paper research team. “The number of people under U.S. correctional supervision has skyrocketed from 200,000 in 1980, to nearly 7 million today.”
“In an era of government budget deficits and fiscal austerity, it is less and less feasible to continue relying on detention and incarceration. It is expensive, it disproportionally affects poor urban communities of color, and it is highly questionable in its effectiveness in rehabilitating people. We believe restorative justice can increase public safety, reduce the ‘prison pipeline’ in poor communities, and lower both human and economic costs to society.”
In Chicago, Illinois, the researchers identified little formal infrastructure and funding for ensuring that restorative justice reaches its full potential. However, they identified a strong foundation for growth due to a growing network of restorative justice practitioners, and to specific inclusion of balanced and restorative justice in the Illinois Juvenile Code and the Chicago Public Schools code of conduct.
While Chicago-area restorative justice focuses largely on youth and school settings, Vancouver practitioners apply it more often with adult offenders. The Vancouver area also demonstrates stronger evidence of formally integrating restorative justice within the justice system, and more evidence of funding to systemically support it.
The Adler School team that worked with IBRJP to research and develop the white paper included Quintana; IPSSJ Assistant Director Dan Cooper, Ph.D.; master’s candidate Jasmine Garfield; and alumna Natalie DeFreitas, M.A., a Vancouver-based counsellor, consultant and speaker. DeFreitas specializes in restorative justice, and spoke on “Rethinking the Impact of Traditional Justice” at TEDxVancouver last October.