Why Some People Will Never Accept Restorative Justice Despite the Evidence


Restorative justice, with its focus on healing and reconciliation, has garnered significant attention and support worldwide. Numerous studies and real-world examples highlight its effectiveness in reducing recidivism and promoting social harmony. However, despite the evidence supporting its merits, there are individuals and communities steadfastly resistant to the idea of restorative justice. This article explores the psychological, cultural, and social factors that contribute to this resistance, delving into case studies, insights from thought leaders, and historical and contemporary perspectives.

The Psychology of Resistance

One reason some people resist restorative justice lies in the psychological realm. The human desire for retribution and a sense of justice being served can often clash with the empathetic, rehabilitative approach of restorative justice. For many, the idea that offenders should face consequences akin to the harm they caused is deeply ingrained, making it difficult to accept an alternative approach, no matter the evidence supporting its efficacy.

Cultural and Societal Influences

Cultural and societal factors also play a significant role in the resistance to restorative justice. In societies where punitive justice systems have deep historical roots, there can be a resistance to adopting a radically different approach. Additionally, cultural norms and values related to individualism, punishment, and forgiveness can shape attitudes towards restorative justice. Communities deeply rooted in traditions of retribution might find it challenging to embrace a process that appears to prioritize forgiveness over punishment.

Insights from Thought Leaders

Thought leaders like Dan Van Ness and Tony Marshall have explored the resistance to restorative justice. Van Ness, a key figure in the restorative justice movement, highlights the challenge of integrating restorative practices into societies deeply entrenched in punitive systems. Marshall’s work delves into the necessity of engaging communities in open dialogue, emphasizing the importance of understanding diverse perspectives to address resistance effectively.

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Historically, restorative justice has faced opposition from established legal systems, with critics often dismissing it as too idealistic or lenient. In contemporary times, despite the evidence demonstrating its benefits, restorative justice programs are not universally accepted. Policymakers and communities remain divided, reflecting the enduring resistance to this transformative approach.

Evidence Shows the widespread success of Restorative Justice

Multiple studies across the U.S., UK, Australia and other countries show RJ commonly delivers benefits to victims that the conventional justice process does not. Ten evaluations using interviews, surveys and/or psychological assessments found that victims reported higher satisfaction with RJ compared to normal prosecution. Victims valued the chance to ask questions and explain impact directly to their offenders (Angel, 2005; McCold & Wachtel, 1998; McGarrell et al., 2000; Strang, 2002).

Common benefits expressed by RJ participants include reduced fear and anger toward their offender, perceived protection from revictimization, and ability to move on from the crime. Notably, two RCTs in London found RJ significantly lowered post-traumatic stress symptoms among robbery and burglary victims compared to controls receiving conventional justice (Angel, 2005). This highlights potential for RJ to improve victims’ mental health and reduce costs of services needed to address trauma.

Effects on Repeat Offending

A consistent concern about RJ has been whether it might allow offenders to avoid appropriate punishment and increase crime. While earlier research was limited, recent rigorous randomized controlled trials find RJ reduces recidivism for certain offenses and offenders compared to controls.

Six experiments found less repeat offending after participation in RJ for violent crimes, with reductions of up to 84 fewer arrests per 100 offenders compared to controls in one study (McCold & Wachtel, 1998; Pennell & Burford, 2000; Sherman et al., 2006). Three RCTs report recidivism reductions after property crime as well, though evidence is somewhat mixed (Bonta et al., 1998; McGarrell et al., 2000; Sherman et al., 2006). However, three other evaluations show no difference in repeat offending for some RJ samples including certain property crimes (Luke & Lind, 2002; Sherman et al., 2000; Triggs, 2005).

Importantly, one RCT found RJ increased repeat offending among a small sample of 23 young Aboriginal property crime offenders versus controls in Canberra (Sherman et al., 2006). This highlights the critical need to carefully evaluate RJ with minority populations. Overall, however, empirical evidence to date indicates RJ does not increase crime across most rigorous studies if implemented properly.


In conclusion, the resistance to restorative justice, despite compelling evidence supporting its efficacy, is a complex phenomenon rooted in psychological, cultural, and societal factors. The clash between the human desire for retribution and the empathetic, rehabilitative principles of restorative justice creates a profound challenge. Cultural norms, historical influences, and deeply ingrained beliefs about justice further contribute to this resistance.

Summary of the most prominent papers on the effectiveness of restorative justice:

  1. “Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Programs, OJJDP-Funded Research in Brief” by Wilson, Olaghere, and Kimbrell (2017): This paper provides a meta-analysis of high-quality, quantitative studies that evaluate the effectiveness of various restorative justice programs. The authors found that certain restorative justice programs could reduce future youth delinquency and increase victim satisfaction with the outcome.
  2. “The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis” by the Research and Statistics Division of the Canadian Department of Justice (date unknown): This paper provides a meta-analysis of studies that compare restorative justice to traditional non-restorative approaches. The authors found that restorative justice was generally more successful at reducing reoffending and improving victim satisfaction.
  3. “Effectiveness of restorative justice practices” by the European Forum for Restorative Justice (2017): This paper provides an overview of empirical research on the benefits of restorative justice practices in Europe. The authors found that restorative justice practices can lead to positive outcomes for victims, offenders, and communities.
  4. “THE EFFECTIVENESS OF RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PRACTICES: A META-ANALYSIS” by Latimer and Kleinknecht (2000): This paper provides a comprehensive literature review of the effectiveness of restorative justice. The authors found that restorative justice can lead to positive outcomes for victims, offenders, and communities, but that more research is needed to better understand its mechanisms and to identify which types of programs are most effective.
  5. “Evidence supporting the use of restorative justice” by the Restorative Justice Council in the UK (date unknown): This paper provides a summary of the evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice. The authors cite a systematic review by the Campbell Collaboration that found restorative justice both reduces reoffending and improves victim satisfaction.
  6. “MoJ evaluation of restorative justice” by the University of Sheffield (date unknown): This paper evaluates three restorative justice schemes in the UK and found that restorative justice led to a 14% reduction in the rate of reoffending and that 85% of victims were satisfied with the process of meeting their offender face to face.

Overall, these papers provide strong evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice in reducing reoffending and improving victim satisfaction. However, more research is needed to better understand the mechanisms of restorative justice and to identify which types of programs are most effective.