One goal that the present Canadian criminal justice system can truly accomplish is incapacitation. Imprisonment removes the offender from the community and prevents further offending during the period of incarceration. This is, however, only a “band-aid” solution which ignores problems, not solves them.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, lowers costs associated with incarceration, provides victims with a sense that justice was served, provides offenders with the feeling that the legal process has treated them fairly, addresses victim-offender relation and makes the community aware that it has a responsibility to the offender, victim and the justice system. It emphasizes that crime is a violation of one person by another, rather than merely a crime against the state. The restorative model of justice involves the offender, the victim and the community in negotiation and dialogue aimed at restitution, reconciliation and restoration of harmony. Offenders take an active part in the restorative process, with remorse and repentance being important factors. The restorative model also looks at the social, economic and moral context of the criminal behaviour, while still holding the offender responsible for his or her actions. Restorative justice places victims and offenders together in problem solving roles and impresses upon offenders the actual human impact of their behaviour. Finally, restorative justice is the concept of restoring a community and its specific members back to their lifestyles prior to the commission of the offence. Although reparations cannot entirely compensate for the physical and emotional costs of crime, partial restoration is better than the existing situation (Umbreit, 1992).

Contrary to our current system of justice which alienates the victim, offender and the community, restorative justice attempts to accomplish several goals: justice for the victim, justice for the offender, address victim-offender relations and address community concerns. Victims need to be able to express facts, opinions and concerns to the offender. They need to receive compensation for their harm and they need to participate in proceedings which directly concern them. Restorative justice models, many argue, accomplish these goals.

Offenders also need to be able to feel that the legal process has treated them fairly. An impaired driving study revealed that 22% of the offenders who participated in regular court proceedings felt they were disadvantaged. However, only 4% of offenders who participated in the restorative justice model felt disadvantaged (Sherman & Barnes, 1997, p. 3). Offenders need to be given the opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions and to communicate with their victims.

Restorative justice models also address victim-offender relations. These models encourage interaction between the offender and the victim, providing the opportunity to address issues, ask questions and hear answers from one another. Under restorative models, this type of interaction promotes reconciliation, understanding and forgiveness which are essential to the healing process.


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