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What is restorative justice?


Restorative justice deals with conflicts which are likely to create serious repercussions (whether they are personal, family or more generally social) on the people who are the victims or the perpetrators, their environment and the community to which they belong. It aims at giving the opportunity to all the stakeholders to participate actively in the pursuit and implementation of solutions which are likely to enable them to get on with their lives (restoration) as serenely as possible.

In accordance with the philosophy of restorative justice, the measures it promotes come within a dynamic process.

They suppose:

  • The voluntary participation
  • of all those who feel concerned
  • by the conflict of a criminal nature
  • in order to negotiate
  • through an active participation
  • in the presence and under the supervision of a “justice third party”
  • as well as the assistance of a “psychological and/or social third party”
  • the most fitting solutions for all,
  • with the aim of promoting, through the actors ‘empowerment,
  • the restoration of all and more generally, the return to social harmony.

« The promises of restorative justice aim at giving back the parties and the people involved who wish it the opportunity to reclaim the conflict to become active participants in the handling of the immediate consequences of the crime by the penal justice system and above all in the concurrent recognition of the consequences of the crime whether they are family, personal or more generally social on their daily and future lives, through measures of restorative justice. »  (Robert Cario)

The sole aim of restorative justice is to offer all the people concerned by the crime the opportunity for a safe dialogue respectful of all those who participate.

Its final aim is the restoration of all which requires:

  • the real rehabilitation of the offender after fulfilling his obligations,
  • the reintegration of the victim after reparation of all the harm,
  • the return to social stability within the community

The available evaluations of the measures of restorative justice administered throughout the world for over 40 years, show that they widely contribute to appease conflicts and people.

By giving them back an essential place, the restorative meeting contributes to the restoration of the victims of offences and the rehabilitation of the people who committed them, thus reducing the risk of reoffending. 

By involving the communities alongside these people through voluntary activities, the measures of restorative justice permit to forge again the links broken by the offence and contribute to reducing the number of situations of isolation.

Restorative justice is developing throughout the world, above all in the penal justice sector, whether it is included or not in the penal justice system and to the penal justice process.  It also finds applicability in the fields of educational activity, family policy and more generally in all the fields of social action.


What restorative justice is not


In the wake of the pioneering works of Howard Zehr numerous authors have contributed to explaining what restorative justice is not.

  • Restorative justice is not specifically dedicated to victims. As by definition it cares for all, it involves all the protagonists of the crime who feel concerned; the offenders, the victims, their relatives and their communities mainly.
  • Restorative justice is not exclusively North-American or even Anglo-Saxon. Numerous procedures of negotiation and as the case may be, of reconciliation have always existed on all continents.
  • Restorative justice is not exclusively turned towards forgiveness. Even though the dialogue it permits to initiate during the meetings fosters its verbalization, it is up to those involved to freely and intimately judge for themselves.
  • Restorative justice is not subjected to any religious dogma. The spiritual values which underpin it belong to anyone who feels attached to our humanity, in a totally secular way.
  • Restorative justice has no therapeutic ambition, no more than the criminal trial.
  • Restorative justice is not exclusively focused on results. From experience, the process which is implemented seems quite as beneficial to the parties involved. The process can thus be terminated at the request of the parties, the mediator or the facilitator, depending on the measures..
  • Restorative justice is not exclusively administered alongside the classic criminal Justice system. It operates in the regulation of all the conflict and must come as a complement to the latter for crimes and serious offences
  • Restorative justice is not exclusively restricted to dealing with less serious offences. Much to the contrary successive, scientific evaluations stress that the more serious the offences are the more the results give satisfaction to the participants.
  • Restorative justice is not necessarily opposed to the retribution for the offense. It felicitously adds the restoration of the inter-subjective links resulting from the crime.
  • Restorative justice is not meant to become an alternative to imprisonment. As a complement to the handling of the consequences of the offence which is the exclusive responsibility of the criminal judge, it participates in the handling of personal, family and social repercussions which at first sight have no immediate or direct link with the offense.


Restorative justice in France


Introduced in France by the 15th, August 2014 act on the individualization of sentences and the strengthening of the efficiency of criminal sanctions, restorative justice is now applicable to “all criminal proceedings and at any stage of those proceedings”

Art.10-1. “Upon any criminal proceeding and at any stage of this proceeding, including during the execution of the sentence, the victim and the offender can have access to a restorative justice measure provided the facts have been acknowledged.
A measure of restorative justice is any measure allowing a victim as well as the perpetrator of an offence to participate actively in settling the difficulties resulting from the offence and more particularly repairing the harm of any kind accruing from it. This measure can only come after the victim and the perpetrator of the offence have been fully informed about it and have expressly agreed to participate.  It is implemented by an independent, specifically trained third party under the supervision of the judicial authority or upon its request of the prison authorities.  It is confidential unless otherwise agreed by the parties and except when a higher interest related to the necessary prevention or repression of offences requires that information on the procedure of the measure should be brought to the attention of the Procureur de la République “(The Director of Public Prosecution (UK) or District Attorney (US))”

This article was included in the preamble to the Code of criminal proceedings dedicated to the fundamental principles presiding over the implementation of any criminal proceedings.

From now on the people who have been the victims or the perpetrators of a criminal offence can have access to a measure of restorative justice, whether the criminal trial or the execution sentence is under way.

The law of August 15th, 2014 was passed in the wake of several experiments in restorative justice.  In 2010 a first session of the inmate-victim meetings (IVM) took place at the Poissy prison (Yvelines) between a group of inmates of the prison and a group of victims.  Several sessions of IVM have been conducted since then.

At the end of 2014, a first session of the convict-victim meeting (CVM) was initiated and is still ongoing in 2015 within the framework of an agreement between the Regional Service of Restorative Justice (RSRJ) of APCARS and the Prison Service of Insertion and Probation (PSIP) of Val-d’Oise.  A group of people on probation under the supervision of the PSIP and a group of victims accompanied by the service of victim support of Val-de-Marne (SAJIR/APCARS) participated in that measure.  An evaluation carried out by the IFJR is under way.

Since 2013 several Circles of support and accountability (COSA) are ongoing in Yvelines and upcoming in Bordeaux and Dax.  A first evaluation within the framework of a European research project has yielded particularly promising results mainly as far as re-offending is concerned.

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Benjamin Sayous

Benjamin Sayous has blogged 450 posts

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