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A restorative justice process is one in which the parties with a stake in a particular offense (the victim, the offender, and community members) are supported and voluntarily participate, with the assistance of facilitator, in a discussion of the circumstances surrounding the harm. The purpose is to understand its underlying causes, the effects on those who have been harmed, and to address the parties’ needs for healing and reparation. Restorative Justice provides opportunities to ask and answer questions, share stories, express feelings, and hopefully develop a better understanding of the other.

A Variety of Methods

The format can look differently depending on the needs of those involved. Group Conferencing, Circle Processes, and Community Accountability Boards are a few of the many approaches that can be used.

Victim-Offender Conferencing

Victim-offender Conferencing, (also called victim-offender dialogue, victim-offender mediation, victim-offender reconciliation, or restorative justice dialogue), is usually a dialogue between victim and offender with the support of a trained facilitator. This method generally involves few participants. Often the conversation is just between the party or parties harmed and those that caused the harm. (International Institute for Restorative Practices)

Community Group Conferencing

Restorative Conferencing involves a larger amount of participants than victim-offender conferencing. Restorative conferences, which have also been called restorative justice conferences, family group conferences and community accountability conferences, is usually a facilitated meeting between offenders, victims, and family and friends of each party, and the community in which they address harms and needs as well as consequences and restitution. (International Institute for Restorative Practices)


Restorative Circles allow prisoners to meet with their families and friends in a group process to support their transition back into the community. Meetings specifically address the need for reconciliation with victims of their crime(s). (Federal Probation Journal, Huikahi Restorative Circles)

Sentencing Circles (sometimes called peacemaking circles) use traditional circle ritual and structure to involve all interested parties. Sentencing circles typically employ a procedure that includes:

  • application by the offender;
  • a healing circle for the victim;
  • a healing circle for the offender;
  • a sentencing circle;
  • and follow-up circles to monitor progress.
Surrogate Victim Panels

This is a process that can be used when a victim cannot or is not willing to take part in a dialogue. The purpose of this program is to provide a safe, appropriate environment where people who have been impacted by crime and people who have caused harm can talk about the impact of certain actions. The party or parties that caused harm meet with surrogate victims of similar offenses to hear that person's story of how the crime impacted their life. These panels are meaningful ways for juvenile offenders to learn how their actions affect not only their victims, but their friends, family, and community. (International Institute for Restorative Practices)

Learn More

  • The Little Book of Restorative Justice
     by Howard Zehr
  • The Little Book of Restorative Disciplines for School
     by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet
  • The Little Book of Family Group Conferences
     by Allan MacRea and Howard Zehr
  • The Little Book of Victim Offender Conferencing: Bringing Victims & Offenders Together in Dialogue
     by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz

Voluntary and Confidential

Restorative practices are typically voluntary and the information shared during a process usually is held in confidence. There may be exceptions to confidentiality if the information is determined to be a future threat to self or others. Each participant usually has the right, at any point, to suspend the process and remove themselves from the process. The facilitator also often holds the right to suspend the process if they feel it is not safe or healthy for any of the stakeholders involved.

Contact the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP) at (540) 568-6218, for more information.

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