Comparison of Zehr’s Three Models of Restorative Justice

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The practice of restorative justice focuses on the needs of victims, the needs of the offenders, and also the involved community. Offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their unlawful actions and do whatever they can to repair the harm that they’ve done. The benefit of restorative justice ( as evidenced in both Norway and United States prison systems) is that it is proven to be beneficial for helping offenders avoid any future offenses by drawing awareness to how the offender's crime has negatively affected another individual and/or the community.

Umbreit and Armour (2010) describe the victim-offender mediation system as a model that involves primarily the victim and offender, who are each worked with individually at first. Then, after agreeing to a meeting with each, they will be brought together under the supervision of a trained facilitator who will guide their interactions in a balanced manner. Other than the victim, offender, and trained mediator, there are usually a few other people involved with this justice system. Often, it is only an option available to offenders who have been incarcerated. There are very few cases of these meetings in which the victim and offender meet face to face (Umbreit & Armour, 2010). An example of victim-offender mediation in practice is in the case of Simon, a 15-year-old boy who punched a girl, Zoë, in the face hard enough for her to need hospital treatment after. The violence caused a lot of tension between the families of the two kids, which resulted in Simon receiving many threatening phone calls from Zoë’s family and friends. To resolve this, a victim-offender coordinator met with Simon and Zoë’s family independently (Crosland, 2003). Then, the two families met at the same location while still staying in separate rooms and allowed a social worker to facilitate communication so that an agreement could be constructed to end interference between the two families and prevent any future contact.

Group conferencing models focus on helping support the offenders in taking responsibility for their offenses and finding subsequent methods of changing it. Group conferencing involves more participants than the few needed for victim-offender mediation by including people who are connected to the victim and offender. These participants can include family, friends, and other professionals or relevant community members who talk with the offender in order to help them realize how the crime has impacted both their personal lives and their community as a whole. Afterward, participants help develop a plan with the offender in order to repair the harm done. Group conferencing has been found to be the most appropriate justice system to employ for juvenile delinquency programs (Umbreit & Armour, 2010). An example of a case in which group conferencing was used revolves around two girls who were 11 months and 10 years old respectively. They were found home alone one day by the police and their mother was identified as someone with a long history of substance abuse as well as numerous prior incidents of child neglect. Child Protective Services (CPS) wanted to remove the children from her care. A meeting led by a facilitator then took place, which included the mother, the maternal grandmother and grandfather, the grandmother’s sister, the CPS worker who investigated the police report. The facilitator first explained the purpose of the meeting and then let the CPS worker express her concerns. Next, the professionals left the room so that the family could develop a plan to resolve the problem. They decided that the two girls would go live with the grandmother for a period of six months, during which the mother was expected to make significant progress in treatment for her substance abuse problems with the support of her family. After six months, if the mother was not successfully sober, the kids would be placed into foster care (Crampton, 2007). Professionals agreed to this plan, and the plan was successful to motivate the mother to rapidly improve in her treatment program so she would be able to maintain custody of her children.

Restorative circles are built on the idea that everything and everyone is interconnected with one another. Therefore, every action an individual performs ripples out and affects others until it eventually comes back. This main difference in this ideology is that the connectedness between all people makes both family and community members partially responsible for the harm done by a crime instead of only placing blame on the offender. Rather than focusing attention on making only the offender take responsibility for their offense and make amends, community members also have an obligation to help make things right after a crime. This includes helping the offenders take responsibility and aid them in any attempts to alleviate any harm done. Restorative circles are process guided, thus they are always a safe place for dialogue and implementing practices to occur. Methods, such as the use of a talking piece, are often employed to make sure participants given equal opportunity to express themselves and contribute to the needs of the group. When all members of the circle interact like this, participants are able to appreciate and understand the perspectives of the opposing side. The use of restorative circles for restorative justice is limited in comparison to the other models and is often reserved for indigenous groups to use. Additionally, they usually function outside of legislative processes and concerns because they are community-oriented. Restorative circles differ from the other models their goal of strengthening the community in addition to just rectifying the harm done by an offender (Umbreit & Armour, 2010). An example of a case where a restorative circle was used is a pilot program in Hawaii, which is aimed at creating transition plans for inmates. Ken was the first of the inmates to have a restorative circle at his minimum-security prison. He is allowed to name individuals that he would like to be a part of his circle. During the circle sessions, he is asked by the other participants what he is the proudest of since he went to prison (Walker, Sakai, & Brady, 2006). The circle members give him support/encouragement to keep making progress to reconcile with the individuals he harmed so that he can get his life back on track.


Crampton, D. (2007). Research review: Family group decision-making: A promising practice in need of more programme theory and research. Child & Family Social Work, 12(2), 202-209.

Crosland, P. (2003). 40 cases: Restorative justice and victim-offender mediation. Bristol: Mediation UK.

Umbreit, M. S., & Armour, M. P. (2010). Restorative justice dialogue: An essential guide for research and practice. New York: Springer Pub.

Walker, L., Sakai, T., & Brady, K. (2006). Restorative circles: A solution-focused reentry planning process for inmates federal probation. Federal Probation Journal, 70(1). Retrieved February 5, 2014, from