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Restorative Justice

Restorative philosophy promotes building relationships and rebuilding relationships after harm.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice is an indigenous practice; it can be traced back to the people of First Nations and indigenous Africans. The culture of restorative practices is based in Black and Brown communities.


Restorative justice is a community-based approach to addressing harm through facilitated dialogue. It brings together the person who caused harm, the person harmed, and impacted members of the community. Restorative practice provides space and opportunity for:

A person who has engaged in harm to take true accountability for his or her action
A person harmed to have meaningful engagement and opportunity to be heard to address the harm suffered by that person
The community to affirm its values and re-invest in its members

Practical Considerations

Restorative justice provides an effective framework to: 

  • ensure accountability 
  • empower voice 
  • rebuild relationships
  • reintegrate into the community.  

Restorative justice has gained popularity because effective restorative practice has shown to modify behavior and reduce recidivism. In order to maintain fidelity and honor the culture and origins of restorative practice, programming must ensure that it does not appropriate the framework, disempower Black and Brown communities, or perpetuate further structural harm. 


Race and Anti-Racism

Restorative justice gained popularity in the United States in the 1970s as a way of moving away from the current retributive system. Unfortunately, for more than 40 years, the field largely ignored issues of race and racial justice. 


It can be said that restorative practice in the United States fell victim to white supremacy in that it failed to honor the cultural roots of the practice and honor Black and Brown people not only as participants in these practices but also as practitioners and experts in the field. This is an area where Black and Brown voices should lead, and their power acknowledged.


Restorative practices require trust and vulnerability. When racism, anti-Black racism, and systemic oppression are unchecked or meaningfully acknowledged through a true reckoning, restorative practices are marred by the very harms sought to be addressed causing further harm and suffering to Black and Brown people.


Restorative practices are successful when there is acknowledgement of oppressive frameworks – racism, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir, ableism, xenophobia. Practitioners must proceed with caution and only after a true understanding of the philosophy and commitment to serve. 

Systemic and Structural Issues

We must look critically when systems attempt to occupy restorative space because restorative practice finds its origin in Black and Brown communities. There is a loud outcry against institutionalization of restorative practice; placement of this work within oppressive systems is antithetical to the ethos of restorative philosophy. 

In order for a system to occupy this space, it must meaningfully acknowledge the historical violence that has been inflicted on Black and Brown people who have been disproportionately affected by the criminal legal system. When systems attempt to utilize restorative practices, derived from the cultures of people of color without providing a counteraction to systems of whiteness, it becomes an extension of those systems.

Great caution must be paid to understanding voluntariness, a hallmark of restorative practices. Critical to the use of restorative practice is a voluntary acknowledgement of harm or wrongdoing. The legal system and systemic actors should not be permitted to claim any sort of victory in presenting a false choice between one part of the process (restorative justice) or the criminal legal process (and the full weight of the system including incarceration). 

Best practice is to center restorative practices and work outside of the legal system and with community organizations that authentically represent minority communities. Community organizations work most closely with members of the community and understand the value of centering power in those most vulnerable and impacted by systemic influences.

The most valuable opportunities for system reform exist when we work to infuse the legal system with opportunities to address harm in a way that reduces the likelihood of future harm. This is best done through public-private collaborations:

The legal system shows commitment to addressing systemic racism and oppression through its actions and funding of community organizations
Community voice is represented through the practices of the community organization(s);
Trust and vulnerability are honored through confidentiality of processes; and
Public-private collaboration breeds more meaningful opportunities to dismantle structural inequities and oppression.


Restorative justice is one option for addressing harm. We must understand that there may be barriers to a person engaging in restorative practice (e.g., the person may not believe they have committed harm and, therefore, are unwilling to voluntarily take responsibility for their alleged actions). Other options are necessary to ensure fidelity to restorative practices.


Restorative justice has proven to restore and balance relationships and modify behavior resulting in reduced recidivism. Practitioners and system actors must avoid poisoning the authentic practice of restorative justice through coercive actions, systemic oppression, structural inequity, and white supremacy. Rather than view it as a panacea, the legal system and system actors must ensure other opportunities are available to avoid unnecessary punishment and mass criminalization.

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Promoting Empathy through Equitable Resolution (PEER) Program

CYFA Uses Restorative Practice to Transform Systems and Address Youth Harm. 

PEER addresses harmful youth behavior through restorative practice. PEER is faithful to the indigenous practice of restorative justice:

  • PEER honors the cultural roots of restorative justice
  • PEER centers power in Black and Brown youth who are disproportionately impacted by the juvenile legal and school disciplinary systems
  • PEER utilizes a tested anti-racism curriculum to educate and empower youth and experienced restorative practitioners
  • PEER honors self-determination in youth participation.

Youth Peer Court (YPC) is an equitable alternative to PEER:

  • YPC allows youth to take accountability for harm
  • YPC honors victim autonomy – the person harmed is not required to participate

YPC provides YPC Ambassadors a service-learning opportunity that amplifies accountability, cultural competence, empathy, and equity.

Please contact CYFA to learn more about PEER, YPC, restorative practice and how you can get involved.