Restorative justice is an umbrella term for a victim-oriented method of righting a wrong, promoting healing following conflict, and providing a sense of safety in the aftermath of violence. Restorative justice refers not only to a number of strategies for resolving conflicts peacefully but also to a political campaign of sorts to advocate for the rights of victims and compassionate treatment of offenders. Instead of incarceration, for example, the option of community service coupled with substance abuse treatment might be favored. When the offender is an organization or governing body, reparations to affected individuals or populations might be in order. From the offender’s standpoint, accountability and truth-telling are stressed, as the offender typically offers to make amends for the harm that was done. From the victim/survivor’s standpoint, a key theme is empowerment, through receiving an apology from the wrongdoer and receiving the support of caring participants. Several models of restorative justice are relevant to social work, including victim–offender conferencing (sometimes incorrectly referred to as mediation), family group conferencing, healing circles, and community reparations. Social work involvement in the field of restorative justice occurs at all levels of practice. Its application in the context of macro social work involves communities, policy, and organizations.
Katherine van Wormer
Tomi Gomory and Daniel Dunleavy
Social work is perhaps most distinctive for its clear and outspoken commitment toward improving the well-being of society’s vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, while still emphasizing the importance of respecting and defending personal rights and freedoms. Though there is a fundamental necessity for coercion, or its threat, for eliciting civil social behavior in a well-functioning society, it is professionally and ethically imperative that social workers make explicit our rationales for, justifications of, and the evidence used to support or reject coercive practices in our work. Social work’s engagement with coercion inevitably entails the ethical and social policy arguments for and against its use, as shown in a review of the empirical evidence regarding its impact on the professions’ clients, exemplified by three domains: (1) child welfare, (2) mental health, and (3) addictions. Recommendations for future improvements involve balancing the potential for harm against the benefits of coercive actions.