Restorative justice and community

Restorative justice may be defined most broadly as a social movement which seeks to apply principals of non-violence to the repair of harm caused by crime and violations of legal and human rights. Unlike the retributive paradigm the restorative paradigm prioritizes assistance to the victim and the community and defines justice as the healing of harm rather than as punishment administered by an aggrieved State.

Grupo Nahual convenes community circles to address issues using a Mayan practice giving the right to speak in turn to circle participants by passing a stick. The circles include gang involved youth.

Offenders are encouraged to take personal responsibility for crimes committed by facing the victim and community and making direct restitution for the suffering and harm caused to both. The goal is to protect the public from further harm by seeking to develop improved competency and understanding of moral responsibility on the part of the offender and decreasing the desire for retaliatory violence on the part of the victim.

Restorative justice practices can be applied in community or correctional settings. In Hawaii for example restorative circles address reconciliation and transition back to the community for the incarcerated. Imprisoned people meet with family and friends and victims or their representatives in such circles in order to develop a plan to reconcile with those harmed.

Recent experiments with restorative justice have gathered interest and acceptance building upon the impact of a public health paradigm shift begun in the early 1980s. Epidemiologists responding to an increase in youth violence at that time identified violence prevention as an issue as critical to public health as it is to criminal justice.

An outreach worker from PASSOS, an NGO that works in community violence prevention, visits families who live in the gang controlled barrio along the train line.

Public health models of response to disease rely on strong problem-solving approaches to prevention and integrated approaches to treatment. This methodology involves identifying risk factors and designing interventions to address them effectively. The process must be well defined and broadly inclusive, with community participation and collaboration.

In the case of youth violence in particular, this paradigm shift has gradually over the last 30 years created deeper understanding of the ways in which violence impacts individuals and communities. It has allowed for better harm reduction practices more effective prevention and reconciliation. It is noteworthy that in indigenous communities these kinds of approaches for addressing community harm have long been part of traditional healing practices.

Although repression is still the dominant model of societal response to youth violence in the US and in Central America, it is significant that the number of local organizations employing restorative practices in their violence prevention work is growing. Combining lessons from US and Latin American non-violent social movements and practices learned from indigenous traditions, these organizations are reaching targeted groups of young people and are educating citizens about alternatives to violence in barrios across the hemisphere.