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The Examples of Restorative Justice and Retributive Justice

Restorative justice is not retributive justice. Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, by providing satisfaction and psychological benefits to the victim, the offender and society. “Justice has been done when the wrong-doer has been sufficiently punished.” Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims and offenders, instead of the need to satisfy the rules of law or the need of the community to give out punishments. Victims are given an active role in a dispute and offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or (for example) doing community service”. Restorative justice is based on a theory of justice that focuses on crime and wrong doing as acted against the individual or community rather than authorities.

Download a PDF Restorative.vs.retributive_justice

Retributive vs. Restorative Justice

This table illustrates the differences in the approach to justice between Retributive Justice and Restorative Justice. As you will see, Restorative Justice is much more community centric and focuses on making the victim whole.

Retributive Justice

Restorative Justice

Crime is an act against the state, a violation of a law, an abstract idea Crime is an act against another person and the community
The criminal justice system controls crime Crime control lies primarily in the community
Offender accountability defined as taking punishment Accountability defined as assuming responsibility and taking action to repair harm
Crime is an individual act with individual responsibility Crime has both individual and social dimensions of responsibility
Punishment is effective:

  • Threats of punishment deter crime
  • Punishment changes behavior
Punishment alone is not effective in changing behavior and is disruptive to community harmony and good relationships
Victims are peripheral to the process Victims are central to the process of resolving a crime.
The offender is defined by deficits The offender is defined by capacity to make reparation
Focus on establishing blame or guilt, on the past (did he/she do it?) Focus on the problem solving, on liabilities/obligations, on the future (what should be done?)
Emphasis on adversarial relationship Emphasis on dialogue and negotiation
Imposition of pain to punish and deter/prevent Restitution as a means of restoring both parties; goal of reconciliation/restoration
Community on sideline, represented abstractly by state Community as facilitator in restorative process
Response focused on offender’s past behavior Response focused on harmful consequences of offender’s behavior; emphasis is on the future
Dependence upon proxy professionals Direct involvement by participants


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