Restorative Justice: A Philosophical Analysis

Deirdre Golash, American University

Restorative justice is often presented as a constructive alternative or adjunct to punitive measures. Arguments for this approach emphasize its positive contribution to crime prevention, beneficial effects on victim participants, and contribution to the moral development of the offender. Critics suggest that the discretonary approach embodied by restorative justice opens the door for excessive and inappropriate sanctions, as well as loosening the procedual protections available. This paper considers various aspects of restorative justice in light of familiar moral criticisms of the standard purposes and methods of criminal punishment, including the argument that punishment for deterrent purposes uses offenders as mere means to social ends and the argument that retributive punishment fails to annul crime and is unsupported by a social contract. I conclude that restorative justice can meet these criticisms to the extent that the sanctions imposed are voluntarily entered into by offenders, but that there is no moral objection to coercing offender participation in hearings.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006