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Restorative justice seeks to repair the harm done by crime. Whenever possible this repair should be done by the persons responsible for the harm.  That is why restorative justice values efforts by offenders to make amends.   

There appear to be four elements or facets of amends: apology, changed behaviour, restitution, and generosity. Each element has potential for helping the victim to heal and the offender to become a productive part of the community, although usually more than one will be involved in a restorative outcome. It is the victim and offender who decide which ones are important and feasible in particular cases.  That is why restorative encounters are important.

Apology: An apology can be written or verbal. The three parts of apology are acknowledgement, affect, and vulnerability. With acknowledgement, the offender accepts responsibility for hurting the victim by his/her actions. The offender also accepts that there was real harm caused by this conduct. Finally, the offender accepts that the harm caused was experienced by another human being who did not deserve the harm. 

Affect goes beyond acknowledgement of guilt to remorse or shame by the offender for what he/she has done. Regret may be expressed verbally or through body language. Witnessing offenders express regret can be healing for victims. However, the offender may feel deep regret but be unable to express it in ways that can be appreciated fully by the victim.

Vulnerability has to do with a shift in power between the offender and the victim.  One of the realities of crime is that the offender has asserted control over the victim in order to commit the crime.  In apologizing, the offender gives control to the victim, who can decide whether or not to accept the apology.  The offender cannot know what the victim will do before offering the apology. In offering the apology, the offender cedes to the victim the control and power over himself/herself.

Changed Behaviour: At the most basic level, changed behaviour by the offender means not committing crimes. This is why negotiated agreements will include elements such as changing the offender's environment, helping the offender learn new behaviours, and rewarding positive change. Attending school and not hanging out in old haunts are ways to change the environment. Drug treatment programmes, anger management classes, and educational and job training programmes are ways that offenders learn new behaviours. Follow-up meetings to the encounters may be used to monitor the offender's progress in trying to change and give him/her positive reinforcement on progress made.
Generosity: But the outcomes of restorative processes suggest that victims and offenders may move beyond simply balancing the books. Offenders may offer to perform services that are not related to the crime or to the victim, but that are understood by the victim as evidence of a sincere apology. For example, the offender may agree to perform community service at an agency the victim chooses.

Restitution: Restitution can be made by returning or replacing property, paying money, or providing direct services to the victim.

Restitution should be paid first to the persons suffering direct harm from the crime, including surviving family members of murder victims. If community service is ordered or agreed to as a way of "paying a debt to society", rather than volunteered as evidence of generosity, it is important to have a clear link between the crime and the community service the offender will do.  Ideally, it will have a direct bearing on the needs and interests of the victim.

More Reading


Stories of Amends

Please Consider this An Apology: Verbatim: Teresa Bonacci's Letter to the Judge


 This article was abstracted from Van Ness, Daniel and Karen Heetderks Strong. 2003. "Chapter 5: Amends." In, Restoring Justice. 2nd. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing. Used by permission from Anderson Publishing Company.  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the publisher.  


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Briefing Paper

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provided by the Mennonite Central Committee. (requires flash player)