Summary of "The Little Book of Restorative Justice"

Summary of

The Little Book of Restorative Justice

by Howard Zehr

Summary written by Brett Reeder, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Zehr, Howard. The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2002.

In this book, one of the world's foremost authorities on our understanding of justice presents principles and practices for making restorative justice feasible and beneficial. "Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible."[p.37] Although the practice began largely to deal with relatively minor crimes, the approach has evolved to encompass even the most brutal behavior known to humanity. It has also become more commonplace in non-criminal settings. The book provides good examples of different restorative justice approaches. Zehr also provides a brief exploration of the relationship between restorative justice and other forms of justice.

The ultimate goals of restorative justice are threefold:[1]

  1. Ensuring that decision making authority is in the hands of those most impacted by the offense;
  2. Bringing the pursuit of justice more in line with healing and transformation;
  3. Reducing the likelihood of future offenses.

By involving a broader range of actors, restorative justice can provide a variety of results for different actors better than conventional legal justice procedures can. For victims, restorative justice processes offer information about the offense, truth-telling, empowerment and restitution or vindication.

Offenders gain from restorative justice accountability that deals with the harm caused and transforms shame to responsibility; aids in personal transformation, such as treatment, developing personal competencies, and healing from the causes of the source of the offense; reintegration into the community; and restraint.

Finally, for the community in general, restorative justice offers recognition of concerns as victims themselves, the chance to build community and mutual accountability, and to develop a recognition of obligations for all member's welfare.

The central concepts of restorative justice are:

  1. Focuses on harm.
  2. This harm generates obligations.
  3. Restorative justice promotes engagement or participation.

Restorative justice is a collaborative effort where solutions are mutually agreed upon. As outlined above, it considers a broader collection of stakeholders in the process than criminal justice procedures do.

[1] Sharpe, Susan. Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre. Available at: