Restorative justice and offender treatment

Research summary
Vol. 11 No. 6
November 2006


Can offender treatment services improve the effectiveness of restorative justice interventions?


Restorative justice is an alternative approach to traditional criminal justice processing which involves the offender, the victim and the community. In restorative justice, victims of crime play a central role in a process that holds the offender accountable and attempts to repair the harm caused by the crime.

Restorative justice programs often involve victims meeting their offenders. The process allows victims to describe the impact of the crime to their offenders and for a reparation plan to be developed collaboratively.

Evaluations of restorative justice programs typically find high levels of satisfaction from victims and offenders with the process. With respect to decreasing the likelihood of offenders re-offending, evaluations have found modest reductions in recidivism.

Most restorative justice programs have targeted low-risk offenders who have committed minor crimes. Recently, some programs have targeted high-risk offenders who have committed more serious crimes. In these more serious cases, offenders have a wider range of problems (e.g., substance abuse, employment difficulties) that may require treatment services.

Reviews of the offender treatment literature have shown that treatment can produce dramatic reductions in recidivism. This raises the importance of marrying restorative justice with offender rehabilitation in order to maximize public safety.


Sixty-seven evaluation studies of restorative justice programs were reviewed using meta-analytic techniques (meta-analysis is a review of the literature that yields quantitative estimates of the effect of an intervention). Particular attention was paid to studies of programs that included treatment for the offender.


On average, restorative justice programs were associated with a 7% reduction in recidivism. These programs were equally effective with juveniles and adults. Of the 67 programs reviewed, only 11 provided treatment to offenders. However, there was no difference in recidivism rates for offenders who received treatment and for those who did not receive treatment.

There are many different types of treatment, some better than others. Most of the treatment services provided to offenders in the restorative justice programs were judged to be inappropriate and had no effect on recidivism.

Only one program was identified that met the standards of effective offender treatment. It showed a reduction in offender recidivism of 31%.

Only five studies used objective assessments of offender risk and need factors. Such assessments are valuable to identify offender problems that need addressing to decrease their likelihood of re-offending. The paucity of studies using evidence-based assessments of offenders may account for why there are so few treatment services offered to offenders.

Policy implications

  1. Few restorative justice programs include treatment services for offenders. However, treatment can improve the chances of the offender becoming a law-abiding citizen. Restorative justice programs should incorporate means to address offender problems specifically related to the criminal behaviour.
  2. So far, when a treatment service is provided, it is often inappropriate. Restorative justice practitioners require training in the types of treatment services that are effective with offenders.
  3. Restorative justice practitioners need to make better use of offender assessment instruments to identify treatment needs. Appropriately addressing offender needs, within a restorative justice context, benefits the victims and the broader community.


For further information

James Bonta, Ph.D.
Corrections Research
Public Safety Canada
269 Laurier Avenue West,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
Phone: 613-991-2831
Fax: 613-990-8295

Date modified: