I have yet to find a satisfying explanation of what Restorative Justice is, so I’ll give it a go.
(and this is a work in progress)
Conflict is the dissidence between one’s expectations and the actual outcome. And from this dissidence sprouts a feeling or physical hurt. “I thought you were going to take me to the football game… and you didn’t,” this is the dissidence, the resulting feelings stem from the hurt this situation caused. This conflict can reside internally and often takes a long time to come to the surface. Clear examples of this internalization of conflict are cases of long-term systemic bullying that results in the original “victim” lashing out and harming, sometimes grievously, the original “author.”
Harm creates a power imbalance. Often the “victim” is dis-empowered.
While both Restorative Justice and Retributive Justice try to re-balance the scales, the qualitative difference between them is that RJ works to build up the “victim” while retributive justice seeks to inflict pain on the “offender” equal to what the victim experienced.
As I say many times: “RJ is a relational approach to conflict.” What do I mean by that? RJ approaches conflict/harm as a way of engaging in “relationship building.” Circles and the “circle process” is a way to build relationships prior to conflict/harm. Restorative Justice uses Empathy, Accountability, and the “Act of Apology” in order to rebuild the damaged relationships. Relationships are those connections between the “author” and the “victim,” community, and the “author” themselves.