The Effects of Restorative Justice Programming: A Review of the Empirical


Before we can know if restorative justice ‘works’ and before we can understand the ‘effects’, we need to ensure that we are all talking about the same thing. It is important to develop a set of simple indicators that can be consistently applied across a variety of programs and jurisdictions to ensure that programs are actually restorative. Does the program actively involve victims, offenders and the community? Is there an effort to restore the relationships between the community, the victim and the offender and repair the harm caused by crime? If these simple criteria are not evident in a program, it may not be adhering to a restorative model.

Once we agree on the “restorativeness’ of a program, it would be valuable to have a clear set of criteria for measuring success. Three central indicators could be victim satisfaction, recidivism and restitution completion rates. It follows that these three outcomes are crucial to ongoing support for restorative interventions. The central goals of restorative justice are to provide meaningful involvement for victims, restore an offender back into the community and repair the harm caused by the crime. Both victim satisfaction and restitution completion rates have been well examined in the literature. Recidivism, on the other hand, requires further study. Arising from this review of the literature, there are several key additional questions that need to be examined. Table 5.1 represents the central research questions that we believe are important to the ongoing ‘scrutiny’ of restorative justice. Each of these research questions can also be examined using the moderating variables (see Table 3.2).

The estimated time frame for the completion of a research project to answer each question is also highlighted. The bulk of the research proposed in Table 5.1 is attainable within a relatively short time-frame. In order to best answer several of these questions, it would also be useful to examine multiple sites across several jurisdictions.

Table 5.1 Proposed Research Questions
Research Question Time Frame
Do restorative practices lower recidivism rates compared to the traditional system? 12 to 36 months
Does participation in restorative practices lower the community’s fear of crime? 2 to 6 months
What are the associated costs with operating restorative justice programs compared to the traditional system? 12 to 18 months
Are restorative options actually more intrusive than traditional options, and consequently a net-widening mechanism? 6 to 12 months
How will restorative practices affect the criminal justice system and specifically the role of police, attorneys, and court and correctional officers? 12 to 36 months
Do we need to develop more sophisticated data collection methods to ensure accurate crime statistics? 1 to 2 months
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