Restorative Justice Policing: A Paradigm for Community Healing


Restorative Justice Policing (RJP) serves as a transformative bridge between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. It shifts the traditional, retributive model of policing toward one that emphasizes repairing harm, fostering dialogues, and rebuilding trust. This article elucidates the historical evolution, key principles, and intellectual cornerstones of RJP, while highlighting a case study that exemplifies its real-world applicability and potential for community healing. 

Historical Development 


Restorative justice principles have been used in various cultures for centuries but were formally conceptualized for policing in the late 20th century as an alternative to punitive measures (McCold & Wachtel, 1998). 


Some police departments in the United States, Canada, and the UK have successfully implemented restorative justice programs, albeit on varying scales (Shapland et al., 2008). 

Key Concepts and Thought Leaders 

Procedural Justice 

This framework advocates for fairness in law enforcement processes, underpinning the operational philosophy of RJP (Tyler, 1990). 

Howard Zehr 

Known as the “grandfather of restorative justice,” Zehr’s work has significantly influenced the RJP model (Zehr, 1990). 

John Braithwaite 

An influential criminologist, Braithwaite advocates for restorative justice in various spheres, including policing (Braithwaite, 2002). 

Strategies and Programs 

Pre-Arrest Diversion 

Instead of making an arrest, police engage offenders in restorative dialogue sessions and community service initiatives (Karp & Clear, 2000). 

Community Conferencing 

A group process involving the victim, offender, and community members to develop mutually acceptable resolutions (Strang & Braithwaite, 2002). 

Case Study: The Denver Model 

Denver, Colorado, has been at the forefront of restorative justice policing. One of its initiatives involves juvenile offenders who commit non-violent crimes. Rather than taking punitive action, police in Denver utilize restorative circles, bringing the offender, victim, and community members together to discuss the impact of the crime and agree on reparative measures. Statistics show a considerable reduction in re-offending rates among participants, along with increased community satisfaction with police interactions (Walker et al., 2013). 

Contemporary Insights 

Technology and RJP 

With the advent of online platforms, virtual restorative justice processes are becoming a reality, though their efficacy compared to in-person interactions is still under evaluation (Umbreit & Armour, 2010). 

Intersectionality and RJP 

There is a growing recognition that restorative justice policing must consider racial, social, and economic contexts to be effective (Daly & Stubbs, 2006). 

Conclusion and Academic Insight 

Restorative Justice Policing stands as a beacon for those seeking an alternative to the entrenched punitive models that have historically dominated law enforcement. However, the academic landscape, represented by scholars like Braithwaite (2002) and Daly and Stubbs (2006), stresses the importance of being attuned to the multiple dimensions of justice, including social and economic factors that intersect with criminal behavior and systemic inequalities. Therefore, scholarly discourse must continue to critically examine the intricate ways in which RJP can either mitigate or exacerbate existing power imbalances. This demands an interdisciplinary approach that draws from criminology, sociology, and ethics to fully realize the restorative capacities of justice in the policing context. 


  • McCold, P., & Wachtel, T. (1998). Restorative Policing Experiment: The Bethlehem Pennsylvania Police Family Group Conferencing Project. Community Service Foundation. 
  • Shapland, J., Atkinson, A., Atkinson, H., Dignan, J., Edwards, L., Hibbert, J., … & Sorsby, A. (2008). Does Restorative Justice Affect Reconviction?. The Fourth Report from the Evaluation of Three Schemes. 
  • Tyler, T. R. (1990). Why People Obey the Law. Yale University Press. 
  • Zehr, H. (1990). Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Herald Press. 
  • Braithwaite, J. (2002). Restorative Justice and Responsive Regulation. Oxford University Press. 
  • Karp, D. R., & Clear, T. R. (2000). Community Justice: A Conceptual Framework. Boundary Changes in Criminal Justice Organizations, 2, 323-368. 
  • Strang, H., & Braithwaite, J. (2002). Restorative Justice and Family Violence. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Walker, L., Greene, J., & Mansell, R. (2013). Denver Restorative Justice Police Pilot Project Report. Denver Police Department. 
  • Umbreit, M. S., & Armour, M. P. (2010). Restorative Justice Dialogue: An Essential Guide for Research and Practice. Springer Publishing.