The Conservative Case for Restorative Justice

Posted January 10, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young Black man receives encouragement as he speaks to a group.

A new pol­i­cy paper, Jus­tice for All: How Restora­tive Jus­tice Mutu­al­ly Ben­e­fits Vic­tims and Youth, iden­ti­fies con­ser­v­a­tive prin­ci­ples asso­ci­at­ed with restora­tive jus­tice. Pub­lished by non­par­ti­san pub­lic pol­i­cy think tank R Street Insti­tute with sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the report also includes:

  • an expla­na­tion of how restora­tive prac­tices are trans­form­ing youth jus­tice sys­tems across the country;
  • an eval­u­a­tion of sev­er­al restora­tive jus­tice pro­grams; and
  • prac­ti­cal rec­om­men­da­tions for effec­tive implementation.

Learn the basics of restora­tive jus­tice for young people

R Street comes at issues from a cen­ter-right per­spec­tive, so I approached this project with some degree of skep­ti­cism,” says Logan Seacrest, the report’s author and a res­i­dent fel­low at the R Street Insti­tute. But the more research I did, the more I real­ized that restora­tive jus­tice fun­da­men­tal­ly aligns with core con­ser­v­a­tive prin­ci­ples like per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, cost-effec­tive­ness and lim­it­ed government.”

A Cen­ter-Right Per­spec­tive on Restora­tive Justice

Seacrest argues that tra­di­tion­al court and deten­tion sys­tems are man­i­fes­ta­tions of a big-gov­ern­ment approach to youth jus­tice. Restora­tive prac­tices reduce the need for inter­ven­tion by the legal sys­tem in favor of per­son­al inter­ven­tion by fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. By pro­vid­ing an alter­na­tive to what Seacrest calls the crim­i­nal jus­tice indus­tri­al com­plex,” restora­tive jus­tice embod­ies a lim­it­ed-gov­ern­ment phi­los­o­phy that min­i­mizes the state’s role in the lives of individuals.

He dis­cuss­es cur­rent chal­lenges and makes 10 rec­om­men­da­tions for design­ing effec­tive restora­tive jus­tice programs:

  1. Make it the default.
  2. Guard against net-widening.
  3. Encour­age cre­ative restitution. 
  4. Let law enforce­ment take the lead.
  5. Focus on deflec­tion rather than diversion. 
  6. Expand refer­ral criteria.
  7. Main­tain confidentiality.
  8. Screen for youth capacity.
  9. Require trau­ma-informed training.
  10. Track data.

Down­load the report for detailed recommendations

Some­times you hear that restora­tive jus­tice is too lenient or soft on crime,” Seacrest says. I dis­agree with this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion because a good pro­gram in no way excus­es crim­i­nal behav­ior. On the con­trary, it expos­es young peo­ple to the dif­fi­cult respon­si­bil­i­ty of see­ing and hear­ing the con­se­quences of their actions, demand­ing account­abil­i­ty through face-to-face dia­logue with their victims.”

Pro­vid­ing a Venue for Reconciliation

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, juve­nile jus­tice has oper­at­ed under a puni­tive mod­el focused almost entire­ly on pun­ish­ing the accused per­son, an approach that leaves lit­tle room for vic­tims. In con­trast, restora­tive jus­tice empow­ers vic­tims to define their own needs and regain a sense of agency and con­trol. These are crit­i­cal steps in tran­scend­ing the expe­ri­ence of a crime and pro­vides over­all greater sat­is­fac­tion with jus­tice outcomes.

Restora­tive jus­tice is becom­ing more com­mon in the Unit­ed States. Forty-five states have enact­ed laws sup­port­ing restora­tive jus­tice, and 35 states have imple­ment­ed it direct­ly into the for­mal youth jus­tice sys­tem, accord­ing to a 2022 Nation­al Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures report. R Street’s paper high­lights Nebraska’s restora­tive jus­tice pro­gram, where par­tic­i­pat­ing youth have a 15% low­er recidi­vism rate com­pared to those who go through the reg­u­lar juve­nile jus­tice system.

We know that restora­tive jus­tice is an extreme­ly effec­tive response to offend­ing behav­ior,” said Casey Senior Pol­i­cy Asso­ciate Liane Rozzell. Through its paper, R Street has made restora­tive jus­tice prac­tices under­stand­able and acces­si­ble to a wider set of stake­hold­ers who may not be famil­iar with this approach.”

Watch as a spe­cial coun­sel for juve­nile jus­tice speaks on restora­tive justice

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