Can Restorative Justice Promote Healing and Reintegration to Lower the Recidivism Rate?

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

McKenna McWilliams  , Contributor

The following was written for an assignment in Jeff Moulton’s Sociology of Crime Course:

Compelling Question: Can restorative justice promote healing and reintegration to lower the recidivism rate?

 In Vermont the recidivism rate is over 40%, while this is lower than other states there is always room for improvement. How can we lower recidivism and spend less in the prison system? Should restorative justice be practiced community wide? How can we improve restorative justice? 

If we practice restorative justice in our prisons and community then we are providing our citizens the opportunities to make personal connections and foster new found trust because both victims and offenders feel supported and equal in the community again. 

The Prison policy Initiative website states that, ” out of every 100,000 people, 288 people are incarcerated (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than almost any democracy on earth.”

The main focus from this information should be how can we reduce the amount of people incarcerated? Why did these rates get so high, and how can we avoid this in the future? 

According to the Law Enforcement Bulletin-FBI website, which focuses on restorative justice and its effects on recidivism, “In 2014 California authorities arrested 86,823 juveniles, most being repeat offenders. If half of the offenders participated in restorative-justice mediation, the total budget (at $500 per case) would have been $21.7 million—a relatively small amount compared with the roughly $7.9 billion (based on 2010 figures) needed to administer the state’s prison system.”

This then asks the question, if it is possible that restorative justice practices would lower costs, why is restorative justice not in the spotlight? Could it be because of the effort it would take to get effective rates? And how do we measure effectiveness if there are no stable existing rates on restorative justice in Vermont? 

While the Public Safety Canada website states that “restorative justice programs had a small effect on offender recidivism, there are some things we should consider with this evidence.  Their research was only 2 years long. This tells us that it might take longer to set in place but it is not a valid reason to not implement restorative justice. 

Based on my field research, after interviewing a couple of experts on my topic, a similarity in their answers was that early intervention and support, in communities, schools,  prisons, and jails can really help reduce recidivism because it gives that structure and creates that environment where people can learn from mistakes and most likely prevent them. It also teaches about how to deal with conflict correctly and safely. Restorative justice can improve successful rehabilitation as well because of the structure and trust increased due to solving and confronting the issue. 

My perspective from this research is that the best outcome is practicing restorative justice in our schools as early as elementary school can be beneficial. Implementing restorative justice so early on can help children create skills to deal with conflict, these skills can be used all throughout their lives, thus lower recidivism. Due to the evidence showing that restorative justice costs less than the prison system, we should focus on improving and practicing it in communities and in the prisons and jails. To figure out how these things can be improved we should measure recidivism and how much Vermont is currently spending on restorative justice compared to what we currently spend on the prison system. 

Thank you for your consideration


McKenna McWilliams (’24)