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Peacemaking criminology is a rather radical idea when contrasted with the way the American justice system most often works. It calls for an understanding of why individuals commit crime, as well as an expression of empathy to them and their situation.

A central tenet of peacemaking criminology is that every act of victimization happens because the perpetrator was also, at one time and in some manner, a victim. Having established this, peacemaking seeks to help criminals work through their issues in order to learn to deal with what is causing the deviant behavior.

In the late 1980s, Indiana University professor Hal Pepinsky began exploring the idea of using peacemaking techniques as ways to bridge the gap of understanding between criminals and society. In 1995, he published a paper called Peacemaking Primer, which is considered one of the pivotal documents of the peacemaking criminology movement. In this paper, Pepinsky argues that there are only two approaches possible in handling the phenomenon of crime: peacemaking, and war-making. He describes war-making as our current approach to crime,

“…in which our findings point blame and fault at others for not doing their jobs, and leave us feeling personally helpless to bring about the change we seek. War-making is a magical fatalistic form of thinking which understandably, in criminology, has produced the catch phrase: ‘Nothing works.’”

Peacemaking in the criminal setting leads to the concept of restorative justice, in which a relationship is restored (or created, if none existed) between the perpetrator and the victim.

Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs, or VORPs, are used widely in Europe and Australia, and to a lesser degree in the United States. These are voluntary meetings (sometimes face-to-face, sometimes handled through one or more intermediaries). A mediator, usually a volunteer, is always present for these exchanges.

According to the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program Information and Resource Center (, 95 percent of all VORPs result in a written restitution agreement, with 90 percent of those agreements completed within a year. This is a very high rate of success (traditional court-ordered restitutions only average a 20-30 percent fulfillment rate).

It is speculated that VORPs are particularly effective because offenders are forced to face the results that their actions created, prompting a moral exploration on their part. They are also less likely to view the restitution as punishment than they would if it was handed down from a court system that seems oppressive and unfair.

In a paper published in 1996, Ron Claassen, Co-Director of the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies, had this to say about restorative justice:

“I think that our whole system could be based on the purpose of restoration of victim, community, offender, families, friends, restorative justice officials and any other individuals or relationships that might have been damaged by the crime. In a restorative system, the primary focus would be on the human violations and need for healing and restoration of individuals and relationships. Focusing on the violation of law would be a backup for those unwilling to be cooperative … A Restorative Justice System would use cooperation as much as possible and coercion as little as possible. A goal of the use of coercion would always be to encourage the offender to decide voluntarily to become cooperative.”

Follow these links to learn more about peacemaking criminology

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