An Interview with Former Visiting Fellow of NIJ, Thomas Quinn

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Published in March 1998 in The National Institute of Justice Journal, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

Q. Will you first define restorative justice? 
A. The definition and practices are evolving -- in much the same way that community policing evolved. 
Let's look first at restorative justice in juxtaposition with the model that dominates American justice: the retributive model. The retributive model, which focuses on offenders and their punishment, does a good job of incarcerating violent, repeat offenders, but it does not -- and many people argue that it cannot -- adequately address victim and community harm. Nor does it give offenders an adequate opportunity to earn back their place in society. Offenders who sit in a prison cell complete their punishment, but the results do little to reduce citizen fear of crime, heal victims, or increase citizen satisfaction with the criminal justice system -- and research indicates that the informed public wants nonviolent offenders to work to repay the community rather than sit idly in jail.[1] 
Restorative justice, in contrast, focuses on restoring the health of the community, repairing the harm done, meeting victims' needs, and emphasizing that the offender can -- and must -- contribute to those repairs. 
Restorative justice condemns the criminal act, holds offenders accountable, involves the participants, and encourages repentant offenders to earn their way back into the good graces of society.[2] Restorative justice considers crime an act against the individual and the community rather than against the State. 
Q. How do community justice and restorative justice differ and how are they the same? 
A. I think we're still sorting out the precise definitions and practices of community justice and restorative justice. The two concepts are alike in many ways, especially in their inclusiveness and shift toward collective problem solving. They differ, however, in that restorative justice focuses to a greater extent on the underlying philosophy of repairing the harm to the victim. 
In terms of practices, some community justice practices encompass restorative justice principles, others do not. For example, a neighborhood watch program that creates a resident-police partnership is a community justice effort but not a restorative justice practice. On the other hand, a victim who communicates with the offender in a structured setting in an effort to bring closure to an incident participates in a restorative justice practice, not a community justice effort. (See exhibit 1.) 
Q. What is the origin of restorative justice? Isn't it a return to ancient models of justice? 
A. Indeed yes. Unwritten codes as well as the earliest written codes focused on repairing the harm. Before the Norman conquest of England, local villages delivered justice by making the offender repay the victim. Then, when William the Conqueror became ruler, crimes became a disruption of the "King's peace," and offenders were fined in the King's Court. By requiring citizens to come to his courts for justice, the king gained power; by collecting fines that in the past would have gone to the victims, he gained wealth. We still have that emphasis with crimes "against the state." Today, other cultures include restoration to the victim and community as core elements of justice, including Muslim, American Indian, and many Pacific Rim societies.[3] 
Q. Can you describe some restorative practices and talk about how widely they are practiced? 
A.  Probably the most familiar examples are restitution and community service -- although both are often applied solely as punitive sanctions rather than linked meaningfully to the offense or as a way for the community to be healed. (See "Varieties of Restorative Justice Practices .") Victim-offender mediation is becoming more widespread, both as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system as well as a part of the system. Hundreds of programs now exist in the United States with hundreds more in other countries. 
It's hard to quantify how widely these activities are practiced, but the trends are clear. The National Association of Counties passed a resolution in July 1996 calling for "the immediate incremental and eventual systemic" movement toward restorative justice. At the Federal level, the Office of Justice Programs of the U.S. Department of Justice has several efforts under way to explore how best to bring attention and insight to both restorative justice and community justice practices. 
For these new approaches to move into the mainstream, however, I believe existing criminal justice agencies must be infused with a restorative justice philosophy -- something that moves away from simply adding programs or policies and toward a change in the way we think about crime. The process would be similar to the process police departments must go through to convert to the community policing philosophy. 
Q. As part of your fellowship, you conducted a survey to learn more about restorative justice. What did the responses reveal? 
A. We developed a survey with assistance from the University of Delaware's Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research and sent it to an interdisciplinary sample of 290 legislators, county executives, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates, and police and corrections professionals.[4] 
On the whole, respondents gave the restorative justice movement a positive rating. The facets that generated the most positive responses related to: 

  • Increased victim and community involvement through a more personal process. 
  • More direct involvement of offenders. 
  • The potential for improved system efficiency because of the fused agency focus.
Q. Let's talk first about increased victim and community involvement. Aren't victims reluctant to have contact with offenders? 
A. Some victims have no interest in having contact with their offender, and some offenders are recalcitrant, unrepentant, and unwilling to accept any blame. But for victims who experience a restorative justice process, there is widespread evidence -- beyond my survey -- supporting the perceived benefits. 
Victims who are exposed to restorative approaches are significantly more satisfied with the process and the outcome, and their satisfaction is consistently higher whether the findings are from adult or juvenile courts; small towns or big cities; or the United States, Germany, Great Britain, or elsewhere.[5] Fear of being revictimized by the same offender also decreases after restorative justice practices are used. In one study, 50 percent fewer victims who participated in mediation expressed fear of revictimization by the same offender compared to victims who had not participated in mediation.[6] 
Positive feedback is not limited to minor cases. In an evaluation of victim-offender dialogues in 39 serious cases (including robbery, rape, and homicide) in British Columbia, Canada, victims or their survivors were given the option of a face-to-face, video, or written dialogue with the offender. A followup survey found unanimous support for the process. Offenders reported a sense of personal growth, and victims a sense of closure.[7] 
Q. If restorative justice increases victim satisfaction and reduces fear of revictimization, are victim advocacy groups embracing it? 
A. The victim advocacy community is cautiously endorsing restorative justice practices. Many are suspicious that restorative justice is a veiled attempt at "rehabilitation" with no serious effort to involve or address victims' concerns. 
Another aspect has been noted by Marlene Young, the Executive Director of the National Organization of Victim Assistance: Most offenders return to their communities, and for this reason, among others, she encourages victim advocacy groups to work to ensure that restorative justice interventions are positive ones for victims and the community as a whole.[8] 
Q. Let's turn to offenders. What does the research show? 
A. Respondents in my survey saw two positive effects: 
  • Offenders are more likely to understand the impact of their crimes. 
  • Offenders are more likely to feel anxiety about having to face victims or community representatives. Some respondents viewed this as a disadvantage to the offender, but others believed increased anxiety about facing the consequences of one's actions contributes to a heightened sense of responsibility and therefore increases the reparative aspects.
In other research, offenders overwhelmingly express satisfaction with restorative justice processes -- up to 90 percent of offenders say they are satisfied with the process. Offenders' perception of fairness exceeds 80 percent.[9] 
Further, some studies indicate that recidivism for offenders who participate in restorative justice activities is lower than for comparison groups of like offenders who are processed regularly.[10] A study of Washington State's Department of Corrections Victim Awareness Education Program found that offenders released from prison after taking part in an approximately 6-week program to learn about the impact of crime on victims were less likely to recidivate than a comparison group who did not take part in those panels.[11] Those who completed the program had much lower repeat offense rates than those who did not (9 percent versus 37 percent). More research is needed, but what is available is promising. 
Q. What about the system as a whole? What benefits did respondents see for the criminal justice system? 
A. The respondents cited numerous benefits related to system efficiency: 
  • Minor cases can be diverted from the formal process. 
  • Dispositions can be reached more quickly. 
  • The use of incarceration can be reduced. 
  • The image of the justice system can be enhanced. 
  • Victim advocates can become allies with other reformers to effect positive system change. 
  • All parties can focus on the same issues and share the same goals. 
  • Agencies can develop and use new measures of success.
Again, research supports many of the benefits the respondents envisioned. For example, a study in North Carolina found that cases can be diverted, freeing prosecutors' and judges' time.[12] 
Law enforcement agencies, too, have shown that restorative justice programs can save resources. When the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, police randomly assigned citizen dispute cases to a mediation settlement program, they found that cases that were settled by mediation were significantly less likely to need police assistance in the future compared with cases involving a control group.[13] 
A common weakness often cited is that a relatively small proportion of the eligible cases are actually handled by the optional alternative process. This shortcoming is so common that the Fund for Dispute Resolution commissioned a report on how to increase referrals and ensure that all eligible cases are processed through alternative mechanisms.[14] The resulting report contains a series of recommendations that call for a more proactive, assertive process for case referral and more vigorous intake methods.[15] 
Q. What about the drawbacks? What disadvantages did respondents identify? 
A. Respondents identified several drawbacks. The three concerns that evoked the strongest response (40 to 49 percent of respondents) relate to: 
  1. The vagueness of the term "restorative justice." The term can lead to some confusion and misunderstanding. It especially seems to be confused with the term "community justice." As mentioned earlier, the philosophy is still evolving.[16] We continue to benefit from the debate over the definition and application of "community policing," and I believe it will be the same for "restorative justice." 
  2. Due process issues. Respondents expressed concerns about both procedural and substantive due process. Just as we strive to avoid coercion and achieve fundamental fairness in traditional procedures, so should we take care that restorative justice efforts are also acceptable to all parties involved, that participation is voluntary, and that all parties understand the implications of their participation.[17] 
  3. Possible resulting disparity. Whole sentencing systems are designed to ensure that similar offenders are treated similarly (based on the current offense and the criminal history). When we also consider victim characteristics, some of these carefully designed controls may no longer work. At the same time, injustice can now result from rigid rules that prohibit consideration of all the factors involved with a case. Suffice it to say that full consideration of the victim will challenge some of the carefully crafted guideline systems now in place, requiring criminal justice professionals to exercise new creativity in light of more variables.
Although not cited as a drawback by the survey respondents, some restorative justice practices take more time and preparation than the routine procedures in most American courts. Although this seems to conflict with reports of faster disposition, it should be noted that some programs are designed to be expeditious; others -- like the family group conferences practiced in New Zealand and Canada[18] -- aim to transform relationships. Building a solution that blends support, involved partnerships, and an involved community takes time, but it may well be worth it. 
Q. What conclusions have you come to as you end your fellowship? 
A. The evidence has convinced me that the restorative justice model has great potential to coexist with the existing incapacitative and retributive models and to contribute to greater well-being for victims and communities. I started this fellowship with a keen interest in citizen satisfaction with the criminal justice system. Most of the practitioners and policymakers I've talked with in the past 20 years have expressed similar interests. The restorative justice approach makes us look through a different lens, to envision a new paradigm for addressing the disruption crime causes victims and communities. 
I've come to believe that restorative justice is a logical next step in a number of national trends. First, it is an integral part of the movement to involve communities in solving their crime problems and encourage justice components to participate in community solutions. Justice agencies no longer simply interpret case law and process offenders. They are part of the "devolution" of Federal responsibility that gives local communities a greater role in criminal justice processes. 
It is also an integral part of "reinventing" government, because it encourages flexibility and interdisciplinary efforts among the parties that are closest to the source of problems.[19] Both reinventing government and restorative justice push to clearly link existing policies, expenditures, and results. 
Thomas Jefferson acknowledged that our institutions must change as society evolves and matures. It is apparent that we are in a time of change, and our system of justice must change as well. Fortunately, the impending transition to involve the community and the victim has the potential to be a positive one. 


  1. Doble, John, Crime and Corrections: The Views of the People of Vermont -- A Report to the Vermont Department of Corrections, Englewood, NJ: John Doble Research Associates, Inc., 1994. See also Doble, John, Stephen Immerwahr, and Amy Richardson, Punishing Criminals: The People of Delaware Consider the Options, a report prepared by the Public Agenda Foundation for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, New York: William S. Fell Co., 1991; John Doble Research Associates, Inc., Crime and Corrections: The Views of the People of Oregon, a report prepared by the Oregon State-Centered Project for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Englewood, NJ: 1995; and "Media Crime Wave Continues: Crime News Quadrupled in Four Years," Overcrowded Times (February 1996):3. 
  2. Braithwaite, John, Crime, Shame and Reintegration, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Braithwaite calls the process "reintegrative shaming." 
  3. Consedine, Jim, Restorative Justice: Healing the Effects of Crime, Lyttleton, New Zealand: Ploughshares Publications, 1995; Melton, Ada Pecos, "Indigenous Justice Systems and Tribal Society," Judicature 79(3)(November-December 1995):126-133; and Meyer, Manu, "To Set Right -- Ho'oponopono: A Native Hawaiian Way of Peacemaking," The Compleat Lawyer (Fall 1995). See also Accord 14(1)(June 1995) for a collection of articles related to historical aspects of restorative justice. 
  4. The survey recipients were participants in discussion groups at professional gatherings between mid-1995 and mid-1996. All survey respondents had at least some knowledge of restorative justice. Some had only limited exposure; others had more extensive understanding of the philosophy, programs, and research findings. Of the 290 surveys mailed, 145 usable surveys were returned by the deadline. Respondents were asked to rate statements on a five-point scale from "very positive" to "very negative." 
  5. Most of the research on alternative approaches to increasing victim satisfaction involves victim-offender mediation, which has grown significantly in the past 15 years. There are now more than 650 community mediation programs in the United States involving almost 20,000 volunteer mediators. See Ray, Larry, "Overview of Community Mediation," an unpublished report prepared by the National Association for Community Mediation, Washington, DC, 1996. See also Ray, Erica, "Multidoor Courthouse," in National Symposium on Court-Connected Dispute Resolution Research: A Report on Current Research Findings -- Implications for Courts and Future Research Needs, ed. Susan Keilitz, Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts, 1994. For examples of international experiences, see Pelikan, Crista, "Conflict Resolution Between Victim and Offender in Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany," in Crime in Europe, ed. Frances Heidensohn and Martin Farrell, London, England: Routledge, 1991:167; Umbreit, Mark, with Robert B. Coates and Boris Kalanj, Victim Meets Offender: The Impact of Restorative Justice and Mediation, Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press, 1994; Coates, Robert B., Victim Meets Offender: An Evaluation of Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs, Valparaiso, IN: PACT Institute of Justice, 1985; and Roberts, Tim, "Evaluation of the Victim-Offender Mediation Project: Final Report for the Solicitor General," an unpublished report, Langley, British Columbia, Canada, 1995. 
  6. A review in 10 sites and 3 countries found that victim satisfaction with the outcome of mediation ranged from 84 to 90 percent. See, for example, Umbreit, with Coates and Kalanj, Victim Meets Offender. See also Vera Institute of Justice, "Mediation and Arbitration as Alternatives to Prosecution in Felony Arrest Cases: An Evaluation of the Brooklyn Dispute Resolution Center (First Year)," New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 1978. 
  7. Roberts, "Evaluation of the Victim-Offender Mediation Project." 
  8. Young, Marlene, "Restorative Community Justice: A Call to Action," a discussion draft paper presented by the National Organization for Victim Assistance, Washington, DC, 1995. 
  9. Umbreit, with Coates and Kalanj, Victim Meets Offender; and Roberts, "Evaluation of the Victim-Offender Mediation Project." 
  10. For example, a study in Utah indicated that juveniles involved in robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft, and vandalism who agreed to or were ordered to pay restitution had, after 1 year, lower rates of recidivism (32 percent) than similar offenders who did not (38 percent). Schneider, Anne, "Restitution and Recidivism Rates of Juvenile Offenders: Results from Four Experimental Studies," Criminology 24(3)(August 1986); and Butts, Jeffrey A., and Howard N. Snyder, "Restitution and Recidivism," Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, September 1992.

    For cases informally handled through diversion programs, for example, the difference was even greater: Those involved with restitution had a 12-percent recidivism rate compared with a 20-percent rate for those not so involved. These findings are consistent with a 1989 national evaluation of restitution and recidivism that indicated that, in three of the four sites evaluated, the restitution group had lower repeat offense rates in the 3-year followup period than the control group. The sites were Boise, Idaho; Washington D.C.; Clayton County, Georgia; and Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. The nonrestitution alternative differed in the four jurisdictions. Statistics were significant at the .05 level in two jurisdictions and at .27 in the third. In the fourth site, there was no difference between the two groups. National Trends in Juvenile Restitution Programming, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, July 1989:9-10. 

  11. Stutz, William, Victim Awareness Education Program Evaluation, Olympia, WA: Washington State Department of Corrections, May 1994. See also Umbreit, with Coates and Kalanj, Victim Meets Offender; Schneider, "Restitution and Recidivism Rates of Juvenile Offenders"; and Consedine, Restorative Justice, 24. 
  12. See, for example, Clark, S.H., E. Valente, Jr., and R.R. Mace, Mediation of Interpersonal Disputes: An Evaluation of North Carolina's Programs, Chapel Hill, NC: Mediation Network of North Carolina, 1992. The findings were statistically significant, however, in only one of the three counties studied. As with other studies, victims in the diverted projects reported high satisfaction. 
  13. For the cases referred to mediation, the number of repeat calls for service to the same address dropped 83 percent (from 272 to 47) compared to callbacks for cases processed routinely, which dropped 17 percent (from 118 to 98). Researchers theorize that the dispute settlement approach is better able to solve repeat problems, thus freeing up substantial police time. Shepard, Roosevelt, "Executive Summary, Neighborhood Dispute Settlement: An Evaluation Report," Harrisburg, PA: Board of Directors, Neighborhood Dispute Settlement of Dauphine County, 1995. Subsequent updated data were submitted by Program Director Stephen J. Roy. 
  14. Clark, Valente, and Mace, Mediation of Interpersonal Disputes; and Umbreit, Mark, How To Increase Referrals to Victim-Offender Mediation Programs, Ontario, Canada: Fund for Dispute Resolution, 1993. 
  15. Keilitz (ed.), National Symposium on Court-Connected Dispute Resolution Research. 
  16. Recently, 47 percent of police chiefs and sheriffs surveyed were unclear about the practical meaning of community policing. See Wycoff, Mary Ann, Community Policing Strategies, Research Preview, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, November 1995. 
  17. In 1994, the American Bar Association (ABA) endorsed victim-offender dialogue programs urging that the choice to participate be voluntary. "ABA Endorsement of Victim-Offender Mediation/Dialogue Programs," approved by the ABA House of Delegates, August 1994, unpublished paper. Victim advocates joined in the ABA's recommendations. 
  18. Burford, Gale, and Joan Pennell, "Family Group Decision Making: Generating Indigenous Structures for Resolving Family Violence," Protecting Children 12(3)(1996); McElrea, F.W.M., "Restorative Justice: The New Zealand Youth Court: A Model for Development in Other Courts?" Journal of Judicial Administration 4(1994); and Immarigeon, Russ, "Family Conferences, Juvenile Offenders, and Accountability," The New York State Child Advocate 3(Fall 1994). 
  19. Gaebler, Ted, and David Osborne, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992. 
Date Created: December 6, 2007