RJ Models

Restorative Justice Models

There are several models of Restorative Justice that are practiced across a range of programs and sectors. The following list is by no means complete:

  • Victim – offender mediation
  • Family Group Conferencing/Family Group Decision Making
  • Conferencing (pre and post sentencing, pre-release)
  • Restorative cautioning (Police)
  • Circles
  • Restorative Practices in schools

We urge newcomers to these concepts to explore the wide range of models and practice – we believe strongly that each model has value and can contribute to our knowledge and best practice in whichever field we work.

Victim – Offender Mediation (VOM)

VOM is a face-to-face meeting between the victim of a crime and the person responsible for that crime. The meeting is facilitated by a trained mediator and allows the parties to talk about the crime and its impacts on their lives. Victims have an opportunity to get answers to their questions about the crime and the person who committed it. The wrongdoer has an opportunity to take responsibility for what they have done and to understand the harm they have caused. If appropriate, a plan may be developed that reflects their joint decisions about how to make things right and it may include apology, restitution, and community service. The practice is also called victim-offender dialogue, victim-offender conferencing, victim-offender reconciliation, or restorative justice dialogue.

The first known example of this process (Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program – VORP) was used by Mennonites in Canada in 1974, later spreading to Indiana, USA in 1978, and then to Europe. Worldwide, there are some 1200+ programs now operating.

Adapted from Victim Offender Mediation Association (VOMA)

Family Group Conferencing (Child Welfare)

The origins of the Family Group Conference (FGC), also known as Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) process lie in New Zealand (NZ). The NZ government in the late 80’s acknowledged the over-representation of Maori children and youth in the state care system. Extensive consultation across the community led to the adoption of a culturally appropriate and effective process that involved families and their wider communities in problem-solving. The NZ legal system became the first in the world to institutionalise a form restorative justice. This process has been adopted widely for child welfare and protection issues.

It is acknowledged that this process for decision making has been widely used in some basic form in families and communities across generations and different cultures. Put simply, it is what we do, as family, in making decisions for our vulnerable family members.

This FGC/FGDM process provides family and important adults in the child’s life a forum to be the primary decision makers for children living with vulnerable or risky adults, or where a plan needs to be developed to meet the child/young person’s needs.

It is clearly acknowledged that this process empowers families to make good robust decisions about their children within their own families. Decisions are based on family knowledge, culture, and environment and provide a clear partnership between state agencies who have statutory responsibilities for children in vulnerable situations and the key family people who are connected to the child/children.

In the UK in the early 1980’s, FGC’s became a practice decision making tool in local authorities for children and projects were developed within social services organisations.

Internationally the process may differ slightly but predominantly the following values are adhered too.

Principles and Values that Underpin FGCs include:

  • The term ‘family’ is interpreted widely, and includes family, friends and other significant people.
  • The family always has an opportunity to plan in private
  • The family’s plan is agreed by the professionals unless, and only unless, the plan places the child at risk of harm.
  • Recognition that children are generally best looked after within their families
  • Families are able to make good decisions about their children given the opportunity and the information to do.
  • Families provide identity, roots and continuity beneficial to children
  • Families have vital information that professionals cannot easily access
  • Families ability to care for their children will be encouraged by family decision making
  • Family problems can be helped by the involvement of friends and wider family
  • Families can make plans sensitive to, and reflective of, their culture
  • Professionals need to share some of their power in working with families (based on Family Rights Group [UK], 1994).



Restorative justice conferencing is the term used to describe the meeting between victims, offenders and their respective families and communities. It has a broader base of participants that Victim-Offender Mediation and has evolved from the Family Group Conference process. A pre-sentence conference may occur when a guilty plea is made in court and the court hearing is adjourned until the conference is held. The decision to go ahead with this process is preceded by careful screening by specially trained facilitators. A report on the interactions at the restorative justice meeting and any agreements reached is provided to the Court to be taken into account at sentencing. The report can also include verbatim quotes from the conference.

Agreements may include activities aimed at repairing the harm caused, e.g., payment by the offender for damage, or replacement of goods, and activities aimed at addressing the causes of the offending behaviour, such as attendance at drug and alcohol programmes, or stopping violence programmes.

Conferences with victims, offenders and their respective families can also occur in prison, after sentencing, provided the screening process indicates the case is suitable. This is a variation of the Victim-Offender Mediation process as it includes a wider group of people in the process. Conferences can also be convened for prisoners and their families to address the issues of reintegration back into the family of the prisoner and into the wider community before release. In some correction facilities, the conference process may be used to deal effectively with conflicts that arise between inmates, or to resolve disciplinary issues.


Restorative cautioning (Police)

In some jurisdictions police have played a large role in the introduction of restorative practices as an alternative approach in dealing with juvenile offenders. This is certainly true in both the United Kingdom and Australia. In part this can be attributed to the perception by police that the Children’s or Youth courts commonly admonish and discharge the offender, only to have them re-offend. Generally victims have had no part to play in youth courts. Most police are aware that young people often behave in a reckless manner without giving thought to their actions or the consequences of those actions.

Most of the work of front-line police work with young people involves motor vehicle theft, gang activity, vandalism and drug and alcohol related offences . The frustrations experienced by police throughout the world by the cycle of offending and re-offending, has led police to develop alternate ways of holding offenders genuinely accountable for their actions.

Police are the “gate keepers” in that they largely work autonomously and have discretion as to how they will deal with an offence. For police, restorative justice was an approach that met their needs and those of the community. Having an alternative process that they could access, that also assisted victims and held young people to account was a breath of fresh air after nearly two centuries of centralised policing in the western world.

For many civil libertarians this was an anathema – police officers reporting or arresting young people then referring them to a restorative process facilitated by another police officer. There was a perception this would lead to net widening and that it was therefore inappropriate for police to facilitate their own conferences – in some studies this has been shown not to be the case. The critics considered that any facilitator, be they a teacher facilitating a school conference, or any other professional facilitating a process for the organization or community they represent, risked bringing some “baggage” to the process.

In reality it is a great example of the community effectively dealing with its own issues. This notion was first pioneered by an Australian police officer, (then) Sergeant Terry O’Connell who believed that there had to be a more effective way for police to have an effective conversation with young people and adolescents who had done the wrong thing. This led to the development of restorative cautioning.

Today, there is a range of restorative processes (including diversionary processes to keep offenders out of court) now being used or supported by police.


The circle is a traditional form of communication for spiritual, political and communal life and is central to many indigenous communities’ approaches to problem solving. Ancient Native Americans and many other indigenous cultures, gathered around fires in their communities to discuss important issues and decide as a community the appropriate way forward.

For countless generations these traditions have persisted. In modern time, people are more likely to sit around a table or on chairs in a circle, to talk, problem solve or simply support one another.

The traditional form of the circle process is now used as a peacemaking process. Peacemaking ‘circles promote safety, therefore by promoting healing: addressing the pain that gives rise to hurtful or violent conduct’ (Pranis, Stuart & Wedge, 2003, p.11).

Pranis et al. (2003) write that circles invite a paradigm shift from:
1. coercion to healing
2. solely individual to individual and collective accountability
3. primary dependence on the state to greater self reliance within the community, and
4. justice as “getting even” to justice as “getting well”

Modern circles are used in a variety of settings. Social services are more commonly using circles for support. These are seen as productive places where participants can share their stories in a supportive environment and empower each other to make change. Sentencing circles are becoming more commonplace. They draw on the indigenous tradition of the talking circle and are now being utilised in some criminal justice settings and help provide appropriate sentences for those who have committed crime. In many youth work and mental health fields, the circle is now being used for group work and counseling.

By simply sitting in a circle and listening to each other, groups are able to come to shared understandings and develop a sense of belonging and connectedness. Regardless of their use, the circle is a form that promotes:

Equality – people participate on equal terms
Speaking & Listening – everyone has the chance to speak without interruption, be listened to and heard
Respect – no-one’s ideas, thoughts or feelings are dismissed or put down
Inclusive – no-one is left out, everyone in the circle participates


Pranis, K., Stuart, B., & Wedge. M., (2003.) Peacemaking Circles – From Crime to Community. St.Paul, MN: Living Justice Press.


Restorative Practices in schools

First developed  to deal with serious issues of misconduct in schools, the “formal” conference process has been adopted widely in many countries in an effort to reduce the number of suspensions and exclusions of students, and to deal with the harm caused by such an incident. This process includes students who are the wrongdoers and victims, their respective families and appropriate school staff and wider community members. Wrongdoers are held accountable for the harm they have caused to the victims (and their respective families) and an agreement is reached by those present at the conference to repair the harm and prevent further harm. Plans for follow-up ensure that there is compliance with the agreement.  The process has also been used to resolve ongoing conflict between students and families, and in situations where the lines are blurred between victims and wrongdoers.

The bulk of disciplinary matters in a school require much less formal interventions, and over time, the conference process has been adapted for more minor events. In these cases, “mini” conferences and informal dialogue (the restorative chat) are used in place of or alongside traditional punitive practices such as detentions and time out. Classrooms are the perfect place for restorative processes when classroom dynamics become so difficult that learning is disrupted and relationships damaged. One such process is called a Classroom Conference, and explores the harm done in the classroom by inappropriate behaviours. Those students responsible are held accountable to their classmates, and as in most restorative processes, a plan is developed by the whole class to address the issues.

What has become increasingly apparent in schools is the need to actively teach students social and emotional competencies so that they can learn how to work and play cooperatively in classrooms and playgrounds, and participate effectively in restorative processes for problem-solving. Circles are widely used in schools in order to develop this social capital and as a preventative approach to minimise the likelihood of conflict and misconduct.