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Restorative Justice…Is It Worth It?

A blog written by a RJ4All’s volunteer to celebrate the International Restorative Justice Week 2023 #RJWEEK

Everywhere you turn people seem to be buzzing about restorative justice. What is all the hype about? Is it the next “miracle cure” for the over incarceration of humanity? Is it just some fad that will be replaced with the next movement next season?  Does it work and is it worth it?  

In the interest of full disclosure, I used to think of restorative justice as hippy justice. How dare anyone try to change the way we think of justice and how we deal with righting wrongs committed against society?! I voiced my opinion to whoever would listen until I found myself in a situation where I had to choose litigation or round table discussion/mediation.  

Based on my previous thinking, I should have jumped at the chance for litigation. There was a wrong committed, let’s take this to court and fight it out so a person, who knows the law but has no idea about the relationship between the parties, can decide who was right. Who cares about the impact this could have on my family and our community, so long as justice was served? Even though, previously, I defended the court system, I didn’t feel that it would do justice in my scenario so I opted to have a round table discussion. Why did I go against the very system that had been in place for hundreds of years? There are three reasons:  

  1. cost; 
  2. time; and 
  3. relationships. 



Cost 

I am sure many people know how pricey it can be to retain a lawyer and go to court. The more experienced the lawyer, the higher the hourly rate. I am not suggesting that lawyers do not deserve the money they make. They are trained professionals, many with years of experience and well versed in the law. The fact is, paying hundreds of dollars per hour adds up quickly and with no guaranteed outcome, it can become a high stakes gamble.  

Time 

The second consideration I made was time. In my case, we had a round table talk between the parties involved and it took a couple of hours to come to an agreement. After all parties were in agreement, we decided to have a lawyer draft a contract based on what we agreed upon. After three years of back and forth with our respective lawyers, our agreement had not been signed and it was suggested we go back to our table talk and try to work it out amongst ourselves again. Disclaimer: the lawyers brought up points we had not considered but instead of discussing them like we did the first time, we tried to settle it with our respective lawyers, which took years, whereas our round table discussions took hours. Also, if the dispute had to go court, it would have taken even longer as the court system is so backlogged, it can take months just to have your matter set before a judge.   

Relationships 

Finally, I thought about relationships. I had to think about future interactions I would have with the involved party. I thought about the consequences a court battle would have on my relationship with the other party. I thought about the effect a court battle would have on the community where I lived, especially if the outcome did more harm than good when trying to carry out what was deemed to be right. I also thought about how going to court would affect the other party emotionally, financially and physically as the other party was older than me and had health issues. There was also the relationship I had with myself. Was I the type of person who wanted to drag someone else through the court system when I was confident there were other options that were more productive and less combative? If I “won” the court case, would I feel good knowing I was a winner and the other party was the loser? If I lost the court case, how would that affect me?  I considered all these questions and weighed my options before coming to the conclusion that a restorative justice option would be a better solution for this particular dispute.  

Conclusion 

I acknowledge there are times where going through the court system is needed. The court system is not an evil entity but it may not be the best solution for righting wrongs or settling all disputes. I encourage anyone who is tasked with resolving a dispute/wrongdoing to reflect on their values, hopes and goals for the future and explore options for resolution that may better fit their circumstance. Restorative Justice allows people a chance to heal relationships, strengthen the community and provides justice in a more win-win situation. If everyone can win in the midst of correcting a societal wrong, then yes, restorative justice is worth it.  

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