What does restorative justice restore?

This evening I listened to a talk on restorative justice that has left me wondering: What exactly is restored through restorative justice?

According to the Government of Canada’s description:

Restorative justice has been part of Canada’s criminal justice system for over 40 years. Restorative justice is commonly defined as an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for their actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by the crime – victims, offenders and communities – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.

Restorative justice is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Restorative justice encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration. Restorative justice processes take various forms and may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system.

This is similar to what was explained in the talk that I heard. But everything I’ve heard about restorative justice – from the context of First Nations in Canada to the context of post-genocide Rwanda – sounds ambiguous in terms of the objectives. What does restorative justice seek to restore? Human dignity? Relationships? Property? Interior freedom? Self-esteem? Quality of life? Standard of living? And, is the restoration something objective (so that we can discern when it has been achieved), subjective (so that the persons involved are themselves the measure), or something involving both (and if this is the case, then what is the interplay of the subjective and objective dimensions)?

Those are my quick thoughts and questions in light of thinking about this topic this evening.

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