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The real world crisis & restorative justice

Governments around the world, the media and many intellectuals had us convinced that we are living a period when financial resources are more scarce than during the World War II era. Having observed this period at personal and research levels, I believe that the world economic crisis, which started with the Great Recession in the US in 2007, made us feel our future is in a deadlock with despair replacing hope. Subsequently, the rest of the world’s populations may be considered as living their lives without any prospect of survival considering the deprivation of essential commodities and basic amenities afflicting these populations. In this absolute despair, fear is created and through this fear control.

Corporate crimes, money laundering and the lack of ethics in businesses, banks and large online enterprises are all accepted as the norm. Habermas poignantly observes that we are living in the crisis of a ‘post democratic’ era, which is characterized by a more capitalist and market oriented functioning of democracy (Habermas, 2012). The representational and equal political systems that we set up through international conventions and long fought campaigns are being replaced by new orders where financial clout increasingly dominates the democratic system and political success. This system has led to a financial calamity and leads to despair in the developed world (Dorling, 2011).

Ask any first year psychology student and they will tell you that for any individual to develop their potential and thrive, first there needs to be a sense of self-pride and a set of personal goals. Remove these and independently of the social, societal, biological, political factors that may be evoked, we should expect to see a life of underachievement and likely criminality. “We learn best in stimulating environments when we feel sure we can succeed. When we feel happy or confident our brains benefit from the release of dopamine, the reward chemical which also helps with memory, attention and problem solving” (Wilkinson & Picket 2009: 115). In the current climate of financial terror, ask a young person independently of their country of origin and they will tell you that they are not special.

This defeatist attitude is also what informs our criminal justice systems. This approach has traditionally focused on all that is wrong with the offender (psychologically, socially, biologically etc.). It looks for their vices and vulnerabilities, their addiction, their social and financial problems, their broken relationships and their distorted view of the world and then asks us to fix them. Consequently, our energy and care are given to minimising risk through treatment programmes.

To no surprise, for decades, policies, funding programmes, laws and practices have focused on setting up and managing a criminal justice system that aims to deal with offenders’ negative traits. No wonder why desistance is seen as a result of being ‘tough on crime’ and criminals. In fact, this approach has been named in the rich literature as the Risk Need Responsivity (RNR) model of rehabilitation. I have written about a new approach with "Offenders No More' and I am thankful to all those who helped me realise how distant from my own values this model is.

The real global crisis is not financial but one of hope and control. In a society where there is no hope, human rights whether in their legal or value based version are seen as luxuries. Survival comes first and in the serving of our basic instincts the vulnerable come last and this includes the refugees and migrants who die in modern Europe with a rate of more than 160 per month.

Take the example of the ‘Greek depression’. With a debt of over €323bn, it is said that hope has become as rare as gold. Since 2011, over 20,000 Greeks became homeless while in 2015 the unemployment rate reached 26%. The well-known strong traditional Greek family structure and the values that underlie it came under strain, often unable to bear the burden of increasing numbers of unemployed and homeless relatives. Against this backdrop, just in the last 3 months, over 141,149 refugees arrived in Greece (over a million arrived in 2015). In a country of 11 million and with a youth unemployment rate at 60%, help for these refugees and respect of their human rights became someone else’s problem.

The truth is that there are enough resources for everyone in modern Europe. Dorling noted: “It is an established fact that “we do have enough for everyone’s needs as we know with some precision how many of us there are on the planet, and we have a good idea of how many us there soon will be” (Dorling, 2011: 14). We also know that further increases in our wealth and resources will not necessarily bring us greater happiness, make us better and informed citizens, give us healthy lives or free our minds. The world, and this includes Europe, does have enough for everyone’s needs, but not for our greed. Greed is a privilege of power and its feeds from control. I argue that it is also the primary reason for inequality, community tensions and crime including the collapse of the post World War II human rights project.

As a values based and positive approach to problem solving, restorative justice has a role to play nurturing morality at the personal, inter-community and business levels. However, it currently faces its own internal power interest battles while it lacks (a) discipline. I believe that it is time for restorative justice to engage, energise and use disciplines it has never reached. In fact, I hope that restorative justice benefits from an inter-disciplinary dialogue that can take the best features and learnings from an array of fields while not losing sight from its original intention of truly empowering those it aims to reach.

Consequently, the 3rd International Symposium on Restorative Justice due to take place in Greece this June will aim to bring together experts from criminology, affect-script psychology, sociology, political sciences and human rights, psychology and positive psychology, design, arts and social work to open new paths for restorative justice at policy, practice and research levels internationally.

This bi-annual international event, uses the ancient model of symposium and the values of friendship, dialogue, respect and brother/sister-hood to act as platform where key concepts are challenged and new scientific and moral avenues are opened. Professor Artinopoulou and I wrote about the symposium methodology in the symposium book "Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy". We hope that our efforts are heard and that the crisis is ended.

As Kay Pranis wrote in her Foreword "We are not educated or socialized to live the questions – only to answer the questions. I think this is where bringing spirit to our work is important. I believe strength of spirit helps us to sit with uncertainly, ambiguity and the unknown with less anxiety. A sense of mystery is a positive way of relating to the unknown. For me this sense of spirit in restorative justice is rooted in the values which describe who we want to be when we are at our best as human beings – the values describing how to be in good relationship with others ...When the heart and spirit are engaged in a safe space they bring a kind of knowing that is different from our mental and physical ways of knowing".

[1] According to UNCHR, at the time of writing (March 2016) there have been 464 deaths since 1 January 2016, see

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