You may have heard of restorative justice – the system of criminal justice which focuses on rehabilitating offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. It was in the late 1990s when Sir Charles Pollard introduced restorative justice into British policing while he was chief constable of Thames Valley Police. Although originally considered a ‘soft and fluffy’ approach to justice, it was found to be a highly effective policing tool and it started to gain mass credibility in the United Kingdom. From this point, the use of restorative practices has become an integrated part of the criminal justice system.

The key differences between restorative justice and punitive justice are as follows:

  • Punitive justice focuses on how a crime violates the law
  • Restorative justice focuses on how a crime harms a person
  • Punitive justice focuses on assigning blame for the wrongdoing
  • Restorative justice focuses on responsibility being taken
  • Punitive justice focuses on imposing punishment and deciding what criminals ‘deserve’
  • Restorative justice focuses on how harm can be repaired and the restoration of relationships

So, what has restorative justice got to do with our schools? Restorative practice is an approach used in schools derived from restorative justice and is a way of behaving which helps to build and maintain healthy relationships, resolve difficulties and repair harm where there has been conflict.

To summarise, restorative justice is a philosophical approach to crime and wrongdoing that puts what harm has been done, the accountability for that harm, and the repair of that harm at the centre of the problem solving. It involves the victim and community in the process of reconciliation. Restorative practice is the practice of these principles, built upon a set of values and beliefs that focuses on building effective relationships and repairing harm which can ultimately lead to reconciliation.

In our next post we will be exploring why restorative practice is an integral part of the education system and how it can help staff, parents and students alike. To find out more about applying restorative practice in your school, we have training available here.


Dr E. Tomlinson: Restorative Practice – The School Psychology Service (

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