Restorative justice is a process involving the primary stakeholders in determining how best to repair the harm done by an offense.
The three primary stakeholders in restorative justice are victims, offenders and their communities of care, whose needs are, respectively, obtaining reparation, taking responsibility and achieving reconciliation. The degree to which all three are involved in meaningful emotional exchange and decision making is the degree to which any form of social discipline approaches being fully restorative. The three primary stakeholders are represented in Figure 2 by the three overlapping circles. The very process of interacting is critical to meeting stakeholders’ emotional needs. The emotional exchange necessary for meeting the needs of all those directly affected cannot occur with only one set of stakeholders participating. The most restorative processes involve the active participation of all three sets of primary stakeholders (McCold & Wachtel, 2003).
When criminal justice practices involve only one group of primary stakeholders, as in the case of governmental financial compensation for victims or meaningful community service work assigned to offenders, the process can only be called partly restorative. When a process such as victim-offender mediation includes two principal stakeholders but excludes their communities of care, the process is mostly restorative. Only when all three sets of primary stakeholders are actively involved, such as in conferences or circles, is a process fully restorative (McCold & Wachtel, 2003).