Can restorative justice programs work or are they a method for kids who commit crime to avoid legal responsibility?

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It is possible for both of these outcomes to come about, depending upon the way in which the program is set up and upon the individuals involved.

It will never be possible to set up a restorative justice system that will truly be meaningful for all people.  There will inevitably be some offenders who do simply use the system to escape punishment.  They will manipulate the system without actually feeling remorse or wanting to atone for what they have done.  This will be particularly true if the program is set up in such a way that more offenders can participate.  Allowing more offenders to participate makes it more likely that some will not have the proper attitudes.

However, it is also possible to have restorative justice programs that are truly helpful.  They can make young people understand the ways in which their actions hurt others.  They can also help the offenders to rehabilitate themselves.  By doing such things, these programs will help to prevent youthful offenders from becoming hardened criminals who will continue to offend as adults.

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