The 5 ‘R’s of Restorative Justice: Are They Always Applicable?

Tuesday 8th February 2022


Restorative Justice has been around in one way or another for centuries. But Restorative Justice as we know it today is a relatively new practice, starting out in its modernised form in the 1970s. There are 5 long-standing principles of Restorative Justice/restorative practice:

  • Relationship
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Repair
  • Reintegration

Relationship: The principle here is that, if ever there is a need for Restorative Justice, it’s because a relationship has been harmed in some way. The aim is to help repair this harm, giving the harmer a safe space to take responsibility and make amends.

Respect: This principle refers to how respect allows for a safe experience for everyone involved in the Restorative Justice process. In this case, respect involves listening to the other person’s perspective, whether we agree with it, and behaving in a way that allows the RJ process to play out safely for everyone.

Responsibility: The Responsibility principle refers to how the harmer and the harmed must take responsibility for their part in the harm if there is any. Each party must be honest with themselves and look deeply to see if they did have a part in the incident, even if they were the harmed person.

Repair: The Repair principle refers to how the harmer is supposed to repair as much harm as they can, whilst still acknowledging that it may not all be able to be repaired. The repair carried out by the harmer should be able to resolve feelings of anger and revenge from the harmed and help the harmer to regain feelings of respect for both themselves and others.  

Reintegration: The final principle, Reintegration, refers to how the community should allow the harmer to accept their part in the harm and reintegrate back into that community with trust. 

As the use of Restorative Justice brilliantly gathers more momentum, we have to ask ourselves if the 5 ‘R’s are really necessary for the basis of all RJ cases. In extreme cases of harm, perhaps only Responsibility is the only ‘R’ that matters.

When we see examples of abuse, killings, and other heinous acts - as we do frequently in our work - relationship, respect, reintegration, and even repair, can go out of the window, and the only thing that matters to the harmed is that the harmer takes responsibility and answers any questions they have. Can we ethically have the expectation that, for example, an abused person must allow their abuser to attempt to rebuild a relationship with them? 

Perhaps less of a focus should be put on these principles and we should focus on what is most important for the harmed, and also the harmer.

An example of Restorative Justice in action without all 5 ‘R’s being met doesn’t mean it’s an unsuccessful process - and no less successful than a Restorative Justice conference with satisfied participants. The success should lie in how the harmer and the harmer feel after the process is finished.

If a harmer comes out of a conference fully understanding the impact of their crime and never wanting to commit an offense to harm someone again, that’s a huge achievement. And if a victim finishes a conference feeling that they’ve had answers to the questions they asked and feel, that again is a huge success.

Of course, the 5 ‘R’s of Restorative Justice/restorative practice are an excellent foundation for understanding the aims of the process. But as a people-first approach, the objectives and success of a Restorative Justice conference must be based on the needs and wants of the people themselves instead of a 5-step process.

To learn more about our work in the area of Restorative Justice, click here.

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