On this blog, we often use the term “redemption law” when discussing ways to give people a second chance after they have been convicted of a crime. Another term that some of our readers may have seen is “restorative justice.” The two concepts are different in many ways, but they have some important things in common, and it can be helpful to understand what restorative justice means.

Put simply, restorative justice refers to an approach to criminal justice that, instead of centering on punishment, emphasizes repairing the damage done to people by criminal acts. This general concept has existed in various forms throughout history, and many Native American tribes have practiced some form of restorative justice for centuries.

In its modern form, restorative justice began in the 1970s and spread through North America and Europe in the following decades. The movement traces its origins to a Canadian parole officer who apprehended two young men after a vandalism spree. Rather than sending them to a criminal trial and probable time behind bars, the officer had the two men meet personally with the people whose property they had damaged. The meeting gave the victims a chance to be heard and made the young men understand the consequences of their actions.

Currently, community groups are coordinating with police departments to use restorative justice techniques in American cities such as Portland and Chicago. Proponents say these programs are helping to reduce crime while also keeping perpetrators out of jail, and giving them a second chance to live more productive and happier lives. I have seen this myself. My firm has had the opportunity to employ restorative justice in some of our cases and the healing for all parties is amazing.

People who have been convicted of crimes face a lot of uphill struggles when they try to start new chapters in their lives, but there may be ways to make these struggles a little easier and better for the community. A lawyer with experience in restorative justice and redemption law can help people review their options.