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Restorative justice

Restorative justice is an approach to conflict and violations of law that allows damages to be remedied by engaging affected parties, healing the parties, and creating a safe community.

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What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice is:
•    A voluntary process for all parties;
•    Reparation and/or compensation for damages;
•    Conclusion of joint agreements; 
•    Hearing the other party,
•    Ability to take responsibility for the act performed;
•    Opportunity to receive answers to the questions that have arisen.

Restorative justice is not:
•    Translation service;
•    Reconciliation with the other party;
•    Counseling;
•    Place of giving assessments;
•    Finding the culprit;
•    To deal with disputes between parents, including matters of custody.

The goal of restorative justice services is to bring the victim and other parties involved in the incident together with the help of an impartial mediator, give them the opportunity to explain and be heard and reach an agreement through the mediation process on how to compensate for the damage and support the restoration of the sense of justice.

Restorative justice practices include:
•    Restorative conversation;
•    Conflict mediation;
•    Mediation proceeding;
•    Restorative consultation;
•    Restorative talking circle.

With the practices of restorative justice, it is possible to prevent the escalation of conflicts and for the parties to come together significantly earlier in time to share the thoughts and feelings that have arisen, to hear the other side, and to share what someone needs to move on from the incident and, if possible, conclude agreements on how to repair the damage that has occurred.

In the process, you can share thoughts, feelings, and needs and hear the other side. There is also an opportunity to take responsibility for your actions or words, make amends, and resolve the situation peacefully. The goal is to heal the parties and create a safe environment to resolve the issue. The process is facilitated by a neutral mediator who supports all participants.

Principles of restorative justice:
Voluntariness - the parties participate in the process voluntarily. The parties must understand the nature, content, and consequences of the process.

Confidentiality - the parties are aware that everything that is shared during the process remains between the participants, except for exceptions in which it is important to inform the relevant legal body and the parties themselves.

Commitment - once the parties reach an agreement, they must be supported and held accountable for their commitments.

Reparation - is a restorative process that provides a meaningful experience of justice by seeking to restore what has been lost, damaged, or corrupted and to deal with what has caused this damage.

Treating participants with dignity - participants are empowered respectfully and fairly so that a safe dialogue can take place that focuses on harm without fear or dominance by one or more parties.

Inclusion - parties are offered a process tailored to their needs, culture, and capabilities.

Security - those conducting the process must do thorough preparatory work with the parties. The process of restorative justice must not cause harm to anyone. It is the task of the promoters to minimize this risk.

Prerequisites for the implementation of restorative justice
  • All parties participate voluntarily;
  • The person who committed the incident admits their act;
  • The safety of all involved is guaranteed;
  • If necessary, support persons are involved;
  • At the end of the joint meeting, an agreement is reached to the satisfaction of all people on how to repair what has been done.
When is restorative justice suitable?

Restorative justice is suitable for people in different situations and age groups if the following criteria are met:
•    everyone is ready to voluntarily participate in the process;
•    the person who committed the act admits their act;
•    the focus is not on the culprit but on finding a solution.

The service helps if an offense or conflict has occurred, for example:

in a school environment
o    between students
o    between teachers
o    between teachers and students
o    between a teacher and a parent
in the work environment in the family 
o    between parent and child
o    between grandparents
o    between relatives
in the community 
o    between a young person and the community 

The Social Insurance Board applies the restorative justice service primarily in the following cases:
•    mediation proceedings within the framework of criminal proceedings;
•    cases involving young people;
•    and other special cases in which agreements have been concluded in advance.

Restorative justice is also suitable for proactively discussing how people feel in certain situations, what agreements to set together, why and how to adhere to certain restrictions, etc.

The service can also be used in cases of legal violations, for example, in cases where the police do not initiate proceedings, the criminal case is closed, etc.

There are different ways to implement restorative justice, such as mediation, restorative consultation, preventive circle, and restorative talking circle. All meetings are facilitated by two trained facilitators who allow participants to share as much as they want in a safe space without judgment, analysis, or summarization.

Methods of application

Mediation - usually a conflict between two people, the resolution of which involves a third neutral person.

Mediation service (former conciliation service) – the mediation procedure is arranged within the framework of criminal proceedings, with the conclusion of a written agreement, the fulfillment of which will be checked. The monitoring period lasts up to six months.

Restorative consultation - involving more parties, such as people who have been affected by the incident, as well as those who can help resolve the incident or prevent it from happening again.

Preventive circle – This method is applied to a conflict or situation where there are many people affected by the incident. The circle is sometimes organized proactively to discuss the implications of the situation and let the parties express their thoughts and feelings.

Restorative talking circle - the talking circle gives the participants the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings regarding the incident, listen to others' stories, and find a balance in a guided discussion circle. Participation supports improving the sense of security through a shared experience. A restorative talking circle can take the form of one-off or continuous meetings. The average duration of one talking circle is 2 hours, with a simultaneous participation of up to 12 people.

Restorative talking circles have been conducted for professionals and community members both in light of COVID-19 and following traumatic events in communities. As feedback, the participants have said that participating in the talking circle gave them the opportunity to express their fears and thoughts that have arisen during the recent period of time and also to hear that they are not alone with their thoughts.

Talking in the above-described format also gives the participants the opportunity to see what everyone can do to prevent such situations from happening or how to get out of a given situation.

The process of restorative justice

1. The referrer explains the process and takes the consent of the parties to participate in the process;

2. The referrer sends the referral form to e-mail: [email protected] ;

3. The RJ team makes an initial assessment and, if suitable, refers the case to work;

4. The RJ volunteers contact the party to agree on the time and place of the first meeting or preliminary meeting;

5. Preliminary meetings are held with all parties, after which the assessment of the possibility of a joint meeting takes place;

6. If holding a joint meeting is deemed possible, a joint meeting will take place. PS! All people attending the joint meeting must have attended the preliminary meeting;

7. RJ volunteers prepare a summary report to which any agreements concluded at the joint meeting are added.

The difference is in the mediation procedure applied within the framework of criminal proceedings.

What will be discussed at the meeting?

Restorative justice meetings are facilitated by two neutral mediators. The party participating in the meeting can talk as much as they want and are willing to share in the process.

There are five restorative justice questions at the meeting:

  • What happened?
  • What were your thoughts and feelings during the incident?
  • What have been your thoughts after the incident?
  • How did the incident affect you and others?
  • How do we remedy what happened?
  • What will it take to move on and prevent the incident from happening again?
Benefits of applying restorative justice
  • Restorative justice has a greater impact if it is implemented as widely as possible - the more people know the principles of restorative justice and how to apply them in their lives, the safer the community will be.
  • Restorative justice contributes to recovery from the victim's experience.
  • Restorative justice helps the offender learn to function in society again.
  • Restorative justice reduces recidivism.

It is important to deal with conflicts and problems at the earliest possible stage, and this helps to prevent future conflicts or their escalation. This is especially true for incidents that took place in classrooms, schools, and smaller communities.

Criminal justice vs. restorative justice

Despite the fact that restorative justice is not a new term, many are not aware of its nature and benefits. Instead, it is often contrasted with the traditional legal system.

While in the traditional system, the main focus is on the person who committed the act, restorative justice focuses, first of all, on the victim to give them a voice as well. At the same time, it also gives voice to the other side. It has a significant weight in the cases of young people, as their voice is mostly not heard.

Restorative justice is not just a fundamental change in the direction of the legal system. This is a proven practice. Numerous studies show that the satisfaction of victims and perpetrators with restorative justice processes is significantly higher than with the measures of the traditional legal system; victims also feel less re-victimized, perpetrators adhere more to the agreements made during restorative justice practices, and this reduces the commission of repeated offenses.

What happened? What happened?
What law was broken? Who has it affected, and how?
What is the corresponding penalty? What should happen in order for the damages to be remedied?
How to obtain a restorative justice service?

You can be referred to the restorative justice service by a police officer, school employee, youth worker, local government employee, prosecutor, or another specialist. For this, the referrer needs to introduce the service and its principles to all parties, obtain consent from the parties to participate, and fill out the referral form. Please send the referral form by e-mail [email protected]

The willingness of all parties to voluntarily participate in the process is important. The role of restorative justice conflict mediators is not to motivate people to participate in the process. Each party can opt out of the process at any time.

More information:

  • Anneliis Feenstra - Head of Restorative Justice Service

[email protected] +372 53481846

  • Sigrid Laan - coordinator (restorative justice volunteers)

[email protected] +372 53317881


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