In 2017, Attorney General Karl Racine launched OAG’s Restorative Justice Program, the first of its kind in the nation. The program offers victims an opportunity to pursue an alternative path to address crime, involving a restorative justice dialogue facilitated by a trained professional. The restorative justice process can help victims of crime find closure and healing and help young people involved in crime learn from their mistakes and be held accountable. (OAG is the exclusive prosecutor for juvenile offenses and prosecutes some adult misdemeanors.) OAG’s Restorative Justice Program embodies a commitment to giving victims of crime voice and agency while treating all parties, including those who cause harm, with dignity.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is a victim-centered approach to addressing crime and conflict, which provides the victim and the young person who caused harm a chance to opt into a facilitated conversation about what happened, how everyone was affected, and what needs to happen to resolve the matter so that it never happens again.
Restorative justice hails from indigenous practices in Native American, West African, and New Zealand cultures. The theory of restorative justice is built on extensive research and has proven positive outcomes in rigorous studies around the world.
That said, restorative justice must be performed with fidelity, and only when victims of crime are willing and amenable, and when all parties are committed to resolution.
Why do Restorative Justice?
Current research from the United States and around the world shows that restorative justice is effective in helping victims move forward and limits the likelihood of future crime.
Rigorous studies show that restorative justice helps victims of even serious, violent crime move forward after victimization with fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and anger compared to those who go through the traditional justice process. Those who participate in restorative justice consistently show high rates of satisfaction with the process, and victims of crime report that they would recommend the process to a friend in a similar situation.
Researchers emphasize the importance of young people taking responsibility for their behavior and building empathy and consequential thinking to reduce the likelihood of committing future crime. Restorative justice requires the accused to be accountable and to hear directly from the harmed person about how the crime has hurt them and their families. Randomized controlled trial studies from the United Kingdom and Australia showed reduced future crime by the people who took part in restorative justice compared to those who went through the traditional criminal and juvenile justice process.
Because restorative justice centers on the dignity and humanity of all participants, it addresses the stark racial disparities that exist in our nation’s justice system. Researchers on race and equity and proponents of restorative justice have both emphasized the transformative nature of restorative justice, and its capacity to help repair the harm inflicted by systemic biases that pervade the justice system.
How does restorative justice work?
If all parties are willing, OAG restorative justice conferencing involves bringing together the victim and the accused along with their respective supporters to have a safe and honest conversation about the harm. This conference is made possible by a restorative justice facilitator who prepares all participants to meet with integrity and come to a resolution as a group. It is not adversarial, but cooperative. It allows everyone to have an active role in addressing the harm and problem-solving to reduce the likelihood of future harm.
Trained OAG Restorative Justice Facilitators work with both sides before any restorative justice dialogue to ensure that the victim is amenable to participating and the person who committed the crime is willing to take responsibility for their actions. The facilitator will prepare all parties for the restorative justice dialogue and bring them together outside an adversarial court process. If everyone comes to agreement about what the person who committed the crime needs to do, the facilitator will monitor that agreement for weeks or months to ensure compliance.
For youth charged with violent crime, the OAG Restorative Justice process requires participation in at least 10 weeks of group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions provided by a community-based therapy practice. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven behavior change intervention and helps reinforce restorative justice themes of empathy and consequential thinking for youth in the juvenile justice system.
Evaluating Success of OAG’s Program
Studies from across the world have shown positive outcomes for victims and offenders using restorative justice compared to traditional court processing. At OAG, victim satisfaction surveys have consistently shown that victims of crime who participate in restorative justice are satisfied with the process and would recommend it to a friend in a similar situation. Early internal recidivism analysis done at OAG shows that youth who participate in restorative justice are less likely to commit future crime compared to a similar cohort who was prosecuted in a traditional manner. In 2021, OAG launched a rigorous outside evaluation of its restorative justice program, led by researchers with extensive experience evaluating programs in the criminal justice system. OAG seeks to learn more about if and how restorative justice helps offenders change behavior and how best to support people who have been victimized by crime.
These evaluations of the OAG Restorative Justice Program are being funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a philanthropic institution committed to rigorous research and the improvement of justice systems.
- New York Times: “After Meeting With Victim, Former Missouri Officer Is Cleared of Assault”
- New York Law School Law Review: “The Hard Truths of Progressive Prosecution and a Path to Realizing the Movement’s Promise”
- NPR: “D.C. Prosecutors, Once Dubious, Are Becoming Believers in Restorative Justice”
- Testimonials from participants in a Restorative Justice circle
- DC Line: “Restorative Justice Program for Juveniles Aims to Foster Empathy and Heal Trauma”
- DCist: “Restorative Justice Has The D.C. Attorney General's Office Looking at Prosecutions in a New Light”
- Annie E. Casey Foundation: Speech by Seema Gajwani on Restorative Justice