When did restorative justice start?

Restorative justice has its roots in many ancient cultures and societies, where communities used various forms of peacemaking to resolve conflicts and repair harm. However, the modern concept of restorative justice, as we understand it today, emerged in the 1970s as a response to growing dissatisfaction with traditional criminal justice systems.

One of the earliest formal restorative justice programs was started in 1974 by a probation officer named Mark Yantzi in Ontario, Canada. Yantzi was dissatisfied with the limitations of the criminal justice system and began experimenting with a new approach that involved bringing offenders and victims together to discuss the harm caused and ways to repair it. This approach quickly gained popularity in Canada and the United States and eventually spread to other countries.

In 1977, the first official victim-offender mediation program was established in Kitchener, Ontario. The program involved trained mediators facilitating meetings between victims and offenders to discuss the harm caused by the offense and ways to make amends. This program became a model for other restorative justice programs around the world.

The inclusion and voice of victims has been a significant factor in the popularity of restorative justice. Traditional criminal justice systems often prioritize the state’s interests over the victim’s, which can leave victims feeling powerless and marginalized. In contrast, restorative justice places the victim at the center of the process, providing them with the opportunity to share their experiences, express their needs, and participate in the resolution of the harm that was done to them. This approach empowers victims by giving them a voice and an active role in the process, helping them to feel heard and validated. It also acknowledges the harm that was done and seeks to repair the harm, which can bring a sense of closure and healing to victims. The inclusion and voice of victims in restorative justice thus makes it a more humane and compassionate response to harm, which has contributed to its growing popularity.

Since then, restorative justice has continued to evolve and grow, with many different models and approaches being developed and implemented in different contexts. Today, it is recognized as a powerful and effective alternative to traditional punitive justice systems in many parts of the world.

Examples of restorative justice in ancient cultures:

  • In ancient Greece, the concept of “dikÄ“,” which roughly translates to “justice,” was central to society. DikÄ“ emphasized the importance of restoring harmony and balance between individuals and their community. To this end, the Athenian court system had a strong emphasis on mediation and reconciliation, with judges serving as mediators rather than strict adjudicators.
  • The Maori people of New Zealand had a system of justice called “tika” or “tino rangatiratanga,” which emphasized the importance of restoring relationships and maintaining harmony. When a crime was committed, the offender would be brought before a council of elders, who would work with both the victim and the offender to find a mutually acceptable solution.
  • In ancient China, the concept of “ren,” or humaneness, was central to society. Ren emphasized the importance of treating others with compassion and respect, and finding ways to restore relationships and harmony when they were disrupted. Disputes were often resolved through mediation, with a focus on finding a solution that was acceptable to both parties.
  • In indigenous cultures of the Americas, restorative justice was often practiced through a process called “peacemaking.” Peacemaking involved bringing together the offender, the victim, and members of the community to discuss the harm that had been caused and find a way to restore relationships and rebuild trust.

These are just a few examples of how restorative justice has been practiced in ancient cultures. Restorative justice has a long history and has been used in many different ways in many different societies throughout history.

The retributive justice system has been the traditional approach to addressing crimes, with a focus on punishing the offender through imprisonment or other forms of retribution. However, this system has been criticized for being costly and not effectively preventing recidivism. Restorative justice provides a more holistic approach that focuses on the needs of all involved parties, including victims, offenders, and the community, while also being more cost-effective. It has been found to reduce recidivism rates and repair harm in a way that promotes healing and community building. The inclusion of victims and their voices in the process has contributed to the growing popularity of restorative justice, as it provides them with a greater sense of agency and closure. While restorative justice may not be suitable for all cases, it provides an alternative to the traditional retributive justice system and has the potential to transform the criminal justice system as a whole.