Restorative practices is a social science that studies how to improve and repair relationships between people and communities.
The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm and restore relationships. It ties together research in a variety of social science fields, including education, psychology, social work, criminology, sociology, organizational development and leadership.
The social science of restorative practices offers a common thread to tie together theory, research and practice in diverse fields such as education, counseling, criminal justice, social work and organizational management.
Individuals and organizations in many fields are developing models and methodology and
performing empirical research that share the same implicit premise, but are often unaware of the commonality of each other's efforts.
For example, in criminal justice, restorative circles and restorative conferences allow victims, offenders and their respective family members and friends to come together to explore how everyone has been affected by an offense and, when possible, to decide how to repair the harm and meet their own needs.
In social work, family group decision-making (FGDM) or family group conferencing (FGC) processes empower extended families to meet privately, without professionals in the room, to make a plan to protect children in their own families from further violence and neglect or to avoid residential placement outside their own homes.
In education, circles and groups provide opportunities for students to share their feelings, build relationships and solve problems, and when there is wrongdoing, to play an active
role in addressing the wrong and making things right.
These various fields employ different terms, all of which fall under the rubric of restorative practices:
In the criminal justice field the phrase used is “restorative justice”; in social work the term employed is “empowerment”; in education, talk is of “positive discipline” or “the responsive classroom”;and in organizational leadership “horizontal management” is referenced.
The social science of restorative practices recognizes all of these perspectives and incorporates them into its scope.
The use of restorative practices has the potential to:
reduce crime, violence and bullying
improve human behavior
strengthen civil society
provide effective leadership
The notion of restorative practices evolved in part from the concept and practices of restorative justice. But from the emergent point of view of restorative practices, restorative justice can be viewed as largely reactive, consisting of formal or informal responses to crime and other wrongdoing after it occurs.
Restorative practices also includes the use of informal and formal processes that precede wrongdoing, those that proactively build relationships and a sense of community to prevent conflict and wrongdoing.