MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
1) Restorative Justice is soft on punishment.
Truth: The focus of a restorative justice process is to repair the harms to individuals and society created by a crime. The traditional justice system focuses solely on punishing the offender and the needs of the victim to heal are ignored. A typical North American view of justice is synonymous with suffering, and the worse the crime, the more the offender should suffer. Restorative justice seeks to the hold the offender accountable in a way that is meaningful to the victim, which can include jail or prison time. It simply depends on the needs of the victim, rather than lawyers arguing in a court room.
Offenders often report that facing their victims and others negatively impacted by their actions is a difficult and intense experience because they must answer difficult questions and take full responsibility for their actions.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in a 1999 decision R v. Gladue that sentences involving restorative justice were not more lenient than incarceration. In fact, the Court found that, when combined with appropriate probationary conditions, restorative justice may “impose a greater burden on the offender than a custodial sentence” (R v. Gladue,  1 SCR 688 at para 72).
2) Restorative justice is a “get out of jail free card.”
Truth: This belief is commonly a result of restorative justice being misunderstood as synonymous with diversion. In reality, a restorative justice process can occur at any point after a crime has occurred, including in conjunction with judicial sentencing and a custodial sentence. Victims have input regarding whether it impacts the judge’s sentencing of the offender.
When restorative justice is used as diversion, the victim has not only more input in the outcomes than they would in the traditional court system, but also more options from which to choose. Furthermore, a case referred as diversion would not likely result in any prison time if it had gone through court, as the use of diversion is legally restricted to lower-level crimes fitting specific parameters.
3) Restorative justice requires becoming friends with the offender or forgiving them.
Truth: Although forgiveness and reconciliation can be by-products of the restorative justice process, they are never a goal or expectation. Victims choose all aspects of their involvement and role with our organization, and they are never asked or required to meet with, befriend, or repair relations with their offenders. Victims also have the right to feel and think about the offender however they choose; we do not bring up the topic of forgiveness in our process unless it is something the victim initiates, and we never suggest how anyone should feel about the offence or offender.
4) Restorative justice is about rehabilitating the offender.
Truth: Restorative justice is first and foremost about meeting the needs of victims. Because restorative justice takes a holistic approach to crime and considers the ripple effects of it on the community, we also support the offender in identifying the root causes and contributing factors behind their offence so they learn to act differently in the future. This results in offender rehabilitation and crime prevention being an aspect of restorative justice, but the true heart of the process is directed by what the victim needs. We find in many cases victims state that one of their needs is to know the offender has undertaken all actions to ensure they never commit a similar crime again, so in this sense, offender rehabilitation is a common element of our work.
5) Restorative justice is only appropriate for comparatively “minor” offences.
Truth: Restorative can be used for any type of crime, and has been successful in cases of assault, rape, and murder. For these more serious offences, the restorative justice process is done in tandem with the mainstream justice system after the offender has been found/plead guilty. It can be done as part of sentencing, exclusive of sentencing, or even years after the court case is over. Note: when restorative justice is used in more serious cases (e.g., sexualized violence, domestic violence, etc.), the process should only be undertaken by specially trained RJ practitioners.