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Restorative Justice: From Theory to Practice

Over the last thirty years, restorative justice has caused a phenomenon of global interest stemming from a number of different stakeholders within the criminal justice system. The increasingly fast pace in which different theoretical claims and normative aspirations have been generated to support restorative justice practices has been unprecedented. Concurrently with the increase of these numerous volumes of theoretical debates, fears have been created that they might not be in accordance – or at least at same speed – with the practical development of the restorative notion. More importantly, they seem to pay none, or little attention to the alarming warnings principally coming from experienced practitioners in the field, who become increasingly concerned about a developing gap between the well-intended normative understandings of restorative justice and its actual implementation.

In 2007, I published "Restorative Justice Theory & Practice: Addressing the Discrepancy." The book was written to give the opportunity to people who had experienced restorative justice in practice to identify problems which they faced during implementation and which could help us understand the gap that exists between the theoretical and practical development of restorative justice. To achieve this, original fieldwork was carried out that did not merely observe the space that the gap creates, but also looked down into it in the hope of finding its causes and the practical problems that continue to encourage it. While restorative justice practitioners and theoreticians from around the world ask “why are criminal justice officials not letting the restorative movement to advance?”, this book asked “what is wrong with the movement”? I based my findings largely on two international qualitative surveys that questioned leading practitioners, researchers, evaluators and policymakers through the methods of in-depth, face-to-face interviews and postal questionnaires. My conclusion was simple: the restorative justice movement is its own worst enemy!

Eight years later and having served the restorative justice movement for over 15 year, I can now safely claim that I there is a strong power and interest battle tearing restorative justice professionals (e.g. practitioners vs theoreticians) apart. This battle also involves types of practices (e.g. mediation vs family group conferencing) as well as fundamental principles (e.g. voluntariness vs coercion). Although constructive debates are always essential for the advancement of criminal justice doctrines, it is my conclusion that if the restorative movement does not restore its own power straggles, the consequences will be severe.

In June this year, my colleague Professor Vasso Artinopoulou and I will be holding once again the International Symposium on Restorative Justice. This time, we want to focus it on moving restorative justice beyond theory to international policy and practice. Governments around the world as well as international bodies (e.g. the United Nations) and regional institutions (e.g. the European Commission) are currently faced with the following three key challenges:

  1. Delivering justice and criminal justice in a difficult financial climate

  2. Understanding, preventing and mitigating international terror while respecting human rights and liberties

  3. Balancing the rights of all those affected by conflict (victims, offenders, families and communities).

They have invested millions on research programmes aiming to address these 3 key concerns and yet we are far from achieving consensus and indeed real outcomes. The Symposium will debate issues impacting horizontally and vertically on all the aforementioned global concerns. Our intention is two fold. First, to enhance knowledge and second to create ground breaking international policy for better criminal justice and justice practice. Submitted abstracts for the 2016 Symposium already cover issues such as:

  • Learning from First Nations People

  • Solution focused practices for victims

  • The role of mindfulness and spirituality

  • Achieving organisational cultural change

  • Changing prison, parole and probation

  • Evaluation and impact assessment for restorative justice

  • The role of art and design for criminal and restorative justice policy and practice

  • Why conflicts are not property.

The Symposium will be held 17-24 June 2016, in Skopelos, Greece. The event will build upon the successful model of the 1st International Symposium on Restorative Justice 2012 and the 2nd International Symposium on Restorative Justice 2014 that had the format of an ancient Greek symposium allowing in-depth discussion, relationship building and self-reflection

As the restorative tradition expands to deal with crimes, ages and situations that it has never addressed before (at least in its contemporary version), and as it starts to make sense in national, and also regional and international forums, then the responsibilities of restorative practitioners and academics redouble. Bridges must be built in order to synthesise. The conceptual tensions characterising the field have to congeal to create a stable platform. Awareness must be increased both at the macro and micro level. To find out more about the 3rd International Symposium on Restorative Justice email

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