What is Restorative Justice?

Justice Lane by Hope Hamerslough

Restorative justice is both a set of practices and a broad philosophy with applicability across contexts. Restorative justice has several core philosophical features, including a focus on identifying needs and repairing harm, active accountability, centering relationships and community, and voluntary participation. Contemporary restorative justice practice and philosophy have roots and resonances with various Indigenous, religious, and other cultural traditions from around the world.

Identifying Needs and Repairing Harm

  • Restorative justice seeks to understand the harm caused and to identify the resulting needs (Emotional; Material/Physical; Relational/Communal; Structural/Historical) for impacted individuals and communities.
  • Restorative justice seeks to understand the needs that led to the behavior that caused harm, so that those needs can be addressed. This includes a focus on equity and addressing needs that arise from broader structural and historical sources of harm.

Active Accountability

  • Restorative justice creates an opportunity for meaningful and active accountability by taking responsibility and working to repair the harm caused in a way that does not cause further harm and is responsive to the needs of those most affected. This contrasts with punitive approaches in which the person responsible for harm does not have the opportunity to be directly accountable to those harmed.

Centering Relationships and Community

  • Restorative justice prioritizes building, maintaining, and repairing relationships. It aims to generate a space in which all people are equally valued and respected and all voices are heard.
  • Restorative justice is attentive to the interconnected nature of communities and endeavors to strengthen those bonds and repair harms when they occur.
  • Restorative justice is an inclusive, dialogic approach that provides an opportunity to hear from the people most directly impacted and practice collective decision-making to address the harm.

Voluntary Participation

  • Restorative justice invites participation from those most directly impacted, those responsible for harm, and their communities of care. Participation is voluntary for all involved.

In honor of International Restorative Justice Week 2022, the National Center on Restorative Justice (NCORJ) invited the RJ community to submit 3-minute videos that answer the question “What is restorative justice?”

Faith in Human Dignity

Statement from the producer, Catholic Mobilizing Network: Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) created “What is Restorative Justice?” to present restorative justice through a variety of voices including ministry leaders, seasoned restorative justice practitioners, and people impacted by harm and crime. Each of these individuals are CMN’s partners in the work of promoting restorative justice nationally. They share their perspectives on what restorative justice means, what it can achieve, and what it can transform. The video underlines the synergy between Christian values and restorative justice, especially faith in human dignity.

Catholic Mobilizing Network is the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice. Learn more about CMN at catholicsmobilizing.org.

Pass the Talking Piece: Healing & Active Accountability

Statement from the producer, USD Center for Restorative Justice: RJ can be difficult to define and often means something a little different to everyone, so we passed the talking piece and asked our University of San Diego community what restorative justice means to them. The video highlights the restorative justice focus on healing, social support and active accountability in an inclusive decision-making process.

The USD Center for Restorative Justice prepares the next generation of diverse RJ leaders and provides research, academic coursework, training, and technical assistance for RJ projects within and beyond higher education.
Learn more at sandiego.edu/rj

A Way of Life

Statement from the producer, Center for Children’s Rights: We wanted to encapsulate how restorative justice is not just a thing that is done when conflict happened. Instead, we aimed to show how restorative justice flows through all areas of one’s life whether that be responding to a fight between students at a school, a disagreement at work, or a need from someone in the community.

Restorative justice is a way of life. It centers the person who was harmed and incorporates entire communities to prevent the harm from happening again. We want the viewers to know that restorative justice does not need to be fancy or complicated, all that is needed are willing participants.

Our work at the Center for Children’s Rights is centered on responding to and preventing harm through various restorative practices and believing that people have the power to solve their own problems when they are connected to the people, resources and processes they need to do so.

As told in the children’s book, Wally and Freya

Statement from the producer, Lindsey Pointer: In this video, I explain restorative justice in 3-minutes using a children’s picture book titled Wally and Freya. Stories are a great way to communicate restorative justice to children and adults alike!

A Trailblazing Discipline

Statement from the producer, Roshelle Sparman-Small: In this video, I answer the following question: “What is restorative justice?”. Additionally, I address other related concepts such as restorative practices, restorative justice conferences, scripts and more. The objective of this video is to explain these concepts in a simple, creative and exciting manner. I tapped into the knowledge and experiences I have gained at the IIRP Graduate School, and I created this video along with my team at Sparman and Small Virtual Advice Service where I am a co-founder, legal consultant and attorney-at-law.

Origins of RJ

Statement from the producer, Caitlin Kennedy: This video served as my final project for my Origins of Restorative Justice course (taken at VLS). I hope viewers will take away the basic process of restorative justice and the importance of recognizing the various indigenous origins of the practice. I hope this video inspires viewers to implement restorative justice in a variety of dispute resolution contexts. As a recent VLS law graduate, my goal is to embrace the values of restorative justice and rework our criminal legal system so that they align more closely with those values.

A Paradigm Shift

Statement from the producer, Robert Sand: This 3-minute video was prepared as part of the USD RJ Certificate program. As a 22 year prosecutor before becoming a law professor, I wanted to capture how we need a shift in thinking and the questions we ask related to the criminal legal system.

RJ in a Poem

Statement from the producer, Catalina Londono: A poem in response to the question, “What does restorative justice mean to me?”

From the Restorative Justice for Africa Initiative

Statement from the producer, Restorative Justice for Africa Initiative (REJA Initiative): We are trained restorative justice facilitators, working to implement restorative justice in Nigeria. In this video, we individually spoke about our views on Restorative Justice and what it means to us. We hope that after watching this video, people will have a basic understanding of what Restorative Justice is.

Immigration Justice

To the advocates at the Vermont Immigrant Assistance clinic at Vermont Law and Graduate School, restorative justice means IMMIGRATION JUSTICE!

Community Harm

Statement from the producer, Kiyonna Navarro: Brief overview of restorative justice principles with example of community harm & RJ practices to restore it.

Problem-Solving Approach to Crime and Conflict

Statement from the producer, Don John Omale: The video clip is a simple way to communicate restorative justice to the public. As an academic and advocate of restorative justice, this clip is made to simplify the concept of restorative justice to the general audience.


Statement from producer, Andrew McGeehan: I hope viewers will take away a personal story about RJ as well as an understanding that RJ provides agency for parties in a way that the criminal justice system does not. I am a practitioner and trainer who has been learning more about RJ every year and loving what I find. I incorporate RJ into my working and personal relationships and I facilitate trainings for educational institutions that want to move forward in their own RJ skills-building and implementation. I hope you enjoy the video!

Rhetoric, Reality and Restorative Justice

Statement from the producer, Lessie Branch: Three minute thesis of what restorative justice is. PowerPoint presentation via Zoom while narrating the presentation.

Breaking the Cycle of Hurt People Hurting People

Statement from the producer, Katie Olesak: Creating this video was important for me to accurately portray restorative justice to a broad audience. I used examples from a case study and conference, and described the techniques that were used. I felt that storytelling was a great way to portray RJ and emphasized the need for healing to stop harm.

A Critical Praxis

Statement from the producer, Jeff Godowski: I spent time reflecting on how I have defined Restorative Justice and where that definition came from. In particular, I wanted to include a call for critical praxis in understanding the roots of RJ and RP and how it shows up in society while continuing to honor the indigenous past and present of the work. Hope: I hope viewers, especially viewers who identify as White practitioners of RP and RJ or circle keepers, will take away a call for action in critically evaluating their roles in RJ to work on repairing harm done to communities of Color on intra-/inter-personal and societal levels. Connection: I have been working as a Restorative Practitioner in Higher Education and Community settings over the past 9 years as a trainer, facilitator, and circle keeper. I currently work to advance both research and practical applications of RP and RJ in colleges and universities, I study the intersections of race and critical whiteness studies and RP/RJ in higher education policy and practice.

Teaching Children to Resolve Conflict

Statement from the producer, Kristy Blue: I created this video as a final project for one of my restorative justice certificate courses at the University of San Diego. I am a mom with many other salient identities, however, using restorative justice to talk about how we teach our children to resolve conflict was a big focus in my video. We have so many harmful systems to unlearn as adults, but if we teach our kids how to empathize and take responsibility, the next generation will have to do less unlearning and instead put more effort toward making positive change. Thanks for watching!

Layers of Harm & Repair

Statement from the producer, Phoebe Smith: What is Restorative Practices? Phoebe Smith is a former classroom teacher and a Restorative Practices Practitioner, trainer and consultant for Restorative Practices implementation and integration in schools and organizations. I love doing this work and try to take advantage of every opportunity to be in community with others doing the work around the world . It was really hard to explain RP in 3 minutes but I do what I normally do in these instances and use the tool of storytelling to explain the importance and benefits of committing to this hard yet transformational work.

A Teacher’s Perspective

Statement from the producer, Erica Lapen: This is one teacher-practitioner’s answer to the What is RJ? question. Spoiler alert: it’s beliefs and values, made into systems, practices, and actions that lead to change. I’m a high school teacher in Texas. I work with student and adult practitioners in community building and processes to respond to harm, and I lead my campus’s restorative practices team. I teach RJ to about sixty students a year in my “Circle class,” and I use Circles daily in my practice as an AP English teacher. My process for making this video? I reflected on what RJ means to me, how RJ represents values many of us share, how essential practice is to restoration, and the vastness of possibility in restorative practice. I hope these reflections speak to someone who is already a practitioner or thinking of becoming one because I want to encourage restorative mindsets and practices in as many people as possible – and for those people to do the same – so that we all become more restorative and nobody has to ask “What is restorative justice?”

Restoration, Rehabilitation, Reintegration

Produced by Hezekiah Olujobi

An Interpretive Video

Statement from the producer, Emma Hirst: Making my video entailed taking pictures of Maine nature and crafting an interpretive video using the App FlipaClip. This idea is inspired by how nature emulates restorative practices, and that if we listen, observe and express gratitude, we might grow towards truth and light. I am an employee for Restorative Justice Project of Midcoast Maine, where I work as a Harm Repair Facilitator and Support, as well as with Lewiston Public High School as a Restorative Educator.