An International Review of Restorative Justice

Summary of a major overview of restorative justice around the world which was conducted by David Miers

Outline

  • I. Introduction A. Overview of Restorative Justice B. Importance of Exploring Restorative Justice Practices Across Jurisdictions C. Purpose and Scope of the Book D. Methodology and Structure
  • II. Acknowledgements A. Recognition of Contributors B. Gratitude for Support
  • III. Executive Summary A. Brief Overview of the Book’s Contents B. Key Findings and Insights
  • IV. Part A: European Jurisdictions A. Austria B. Belgium C. Czech Republic D. Denmark E. Finland F. France G. Germany H. Netherlands I. Norway J. Poland K. Slovenia L. Spain (Catalonia) M. Other European Jurisdictions: Ireland, Italy, Russia, Sweden
  • V. Part B: Common Law Jurisdictions A. Australia B. Canada C. New Zealand D. The United States of America
  • VI. Part C: Evaluated Summary A. Analysis by Theme 1. Legal Base 2. Scope 3. Implementation 4. Evaluation B. Lessons Learned and Best Practices
  • VII. Annexes A. Final List of Jurisdictions Covered by the Review B. Detailed Analysis by Theme C. Bibliography
  • VIII. Conclusion A. Recap of Key Points B. Implications for Policy and Practice C. Future Directions and Recommendations
  • IX. References A. Citations and Further Reading B. Resources for Further Exploration

Across Europe, there has been growing interest and adoption of restorative justice programs as an alternative approach to dealing with criminal offenses. Restorative justice shifts the focus from solely punishing the offender to repairing the harm done and achieving reconciliation between victims, offenders, and the community. This article provides a comprehensive overview of restorative justice efforts underway in European jurisdictions.

Program Characteristics An international review examined 26 distinct restorative justice or victim-offender mediation programs implemented across 12 European countries. The picture that emerges is one of considerable heterogeneity, with no clear correlations between a program’s legal basis, scope, implementation approach, or claimed ideological orientation.

While specifics vary, most programs aim to facilitate an apology from the offender along with some form of material reparation to the victim, whether monetary, service-based, or an exchange of goods. These reparative outcomes are typically formalized in an agreement that impacts how the offender’s case proceeds through the justice system.

Legal Foundations Jurisdictions have taken different legal pathways to establish restorative justice programs. Some have enacted specific statutes or penal code provisions mandating their adoption (e.g. Austria, Germany, Norway, Spain). Others have leveraged existing criminal procedure laws as the legal underpinning (Finland, Netherlands).

The legal effect is either permissive, granting discretion to divert offenders into restorative programs, or coercive, obligating system personnel to consider restorative options before proceeding through standard channels. Supplementary regulations and practice guidelines often accompany the legal frameworks.

Program Scope Most countries provide restorative justice opportunities for both adult and juvenile offenders, though some systems are more developed for addressing juvenile crimes. There is a general trend toward focusing on less serious offenses against persons or property, sometimes categorically excluding cases where custodial sentences may apply.

A program’s claimed ideological orientation can vary as well – being characterized as victim-focused, offender-focused, or a mixed approach seeking to balance both parties’ interests. The stage at which restorative efforts are introduced (pre-charge, pre-trial, sentencing, post-sentencing) differs too.

Implementation
Restorative programs are facilitated by a mix of public sector agencies like probation and social services, as well as private organizations and community volunteers. The most common referring bodies are prosecutors, police, and courts, but some allow self-referrals too.

Core program activities involve various forms of mediation – either direct mediation between victims and offenders, or indirect mediation through program facilitators. A handful of jurisdictions have also implemented family group conferencing models.

Critical Success Factors Where restorative justice initiatives have shown coherence, durability and efficiency over time, certain critical factors have been present:

  • A strong, sustained reform impetus backed by a common ideological vision
  • Open-mindedness and political will from government to enact changes
  • Careful attention to practical details during program design and implementation
  • Coordination and ongoing effort across all relevant agencies
  • Ample financial planning and support for program operations
  • An inclusive approach with community involvement
  • Competent supervision and responsible program coordination
  • Emphasis on validating research from the outset

These factors have enabled restorative programs to flourish and instill public confidence over the long-term.

Theoretical Debates As the restorative justice movement has expanded, key debates have emerged regarding its theoretical framing and relationship to traditional criminal justice models:

Integration Models Some analysts categorize restorative programs by their relationship to the existing justice system. Integrated models refer cases to a mediator, with successful agreements leading to case dismissal or impacting sentencing. Alternative models fully divert cases to restorative pathways. Additional models provide restorative options complementary to, but separate from standard proceedings.

Compatibility with Retributive Justice A core debate is whether restorative justice represents an alternative paradigm shift away from retributive justice focused on punishment, or whether the two are ultimately compatible frameworks with differing priorities.

Defining Restorative Justice Closely tied to compatibility debates is the lack of consensus around defining the precise scope and aims of “restorative justice” itself. Proposed definitions range from focusing solely on victim healing and redress, to broader definitions encompassing offender accountability and reintegration.

Relationship to Punishment Relatedly, there are differing perspectives on whether restorative processes should be construed as an alternative form of punishment for offenders or as a wholly separate mechanism focused on restoring victims, offenders and communities.

Evaluation Challenges Perhaps the most crucial issue is the difficulty in robustly evaluating the effectiveness and long-term impacts of restorative programs. This stems from the diversity of process aims, the prioritization of differing outcome measures (recidivism, victim satisfaction, offender accountability, etc.), and a lack of consistent large-scale data.

There is general agreement that restorative programs should be subject to constraints like proportionality to the offense. However, determining whether a program truly “works” depends on establishing clear, prioritized criteria for success.

Future Directions Looking ahead, the restorative justice movement is actively working towards greater convergence through efforts like the European Forum for Restorative Justice and Victim-Offender Mediation. Established in 2000, the Forum aims to promote information sharing, develop theoretical foundations and principles of effective practice, and stimulate rigorous research across programs.

At the policy level, instruments like the Council of Europe’s Recommendation R(99)19 are advocating for restorative justice to be universally available and integrated at all stages of the criminal process in member states. Bringing these top-down and bottom-up efforts into alignment holds significant potential for elevating restorative approaches in the years to come.