What victims and offenders want from restorative justice: New evidence

8 Jul 2018

New data has just been published following a survey that Dr. Gavrielides conducted with 66 victims and 44 offenders, followed by 11 in-depth victim interviews and a focus groups with 7 victims and practitioners. The fieldwork was conducted this year in London, and the results have been published as: Gavrielides, T. (2018) ‘Victims and the Restorative Justice Ambition: A London Case Study of Potentials, Assumptions and Realities’ Contemporary Justice Review (Vol 21: 3), DOI: 10.1080/10282580.2018.1488129

 

 

Many "restorative justice(s)"

 

As a lawyer and an RJ4All Associate, my understanding of restorative justice is continuously changing. There is a recurrent emergence of practices that are labelled as ‘restorative’. From here, the following question arises: Are all these ‘restorative justice’ practices aligned with the theoretical foundations of restorative justice? Gavrielides' recent research certainly raises this questions (and I am expecting also a few eye brows)!

 

I have come to understand that there no single theory of restorative justice.[1] Restorative justice generally aims to work with the stakeholders of a crime to address and repair the harms resulting from a criminal conduct.[2] It been advanced by its proponents as a major development in criminological thinking, with some theoretical approaches reaching the extent of advocating ‘penal abolition’.[3] Today, dominant restorative justice theories have been translated into a number of practices, ranging from formal programmes; including family conferences, victim-offender mediation, and community conferences, to informal programmes applied in schools, workplaces, prisons, and other settings.[4] This brings my attention to the variations of restorative justice practices, which may be beneficial, yet may discrepantly sway away from the theoretical foundations of many restorative justice approaches. Applying practices without understanding their aims and agreeing on their theoretical foundations may be detrimental to restoring and communicating the rights of the stakeholders involved in the process, or in other words, achieving the goals of implementing the practice. 

 

A victim-led restorative justice?

 

Gavrielides importantly highlights the development of new forms of restorative justice, often led by political and policy agendas. The article studies the emergence of ‘victim-led restorative justice’ in London, which is a support programme initiated by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in June 2016 for adult victims for all crimes. The development is in line with changes to the Powers of the Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 by The Crime and Courts Act 2013, paragraphs 505-507, giving the courts power to temporarily defer passing a sentence to an offender if all parties agree to engage in restorative justice activities. 

 

At first instance, the term ‘victim led’ restorative justice theoretically goes against the essence of involving allthe stakeholders of a crime, including the offenders, in the process of restoration. Gavrielides explores the perspectives of victims and offenders on restorative justice, including their needs, awareness, and experiences. This is hoped to advance knowledge on the viability of a victim-led restorative justice initiative in practice . The study conducted surveys with victims and offenders, and follow-up in-depth interviews with victims. Advantageously, the victims and offenders involved in the study were previously involved in diverse set of crimes; including burglary, robbery, hate crime, stalking and harassment, abuse in childhood, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and murder of a family member. The study, hence, furthers our understanding of the application of restorative justice to deal with serious and petty offences. 

 

The study crucially contributes to the theory and practice of restorative justice, chiefly providing particular guidance to policy makers and practitioners internationally, to improve current restorative justice programmes. Having gained a broad understanding of the wants and needs of victims and offenders when engaging in restorative justice processes, Gavrielides states, 

 

“Restorative justice promises a more equal, empowering and individualised service in the pursuit of justice for both victims and offenders. Any restorative justice service that aims to reach large numbers and is delivered safely and based on legality and the values of the restorative justice norm must move beyond the power and interest battles that exist within the movement. This includes political statements and intentions including using empty terms such as ‘victim-led’.  They add nothing to the restorative justice experience, which should be empowering for both victims and offenders, and able to listen to their individual needs, wants, and realities while considering the community’s interests.” [5]

 

Main contributions of the study

 

First, the study concluded that the interests of victims and offenders are aligned; victims and offenders both want to engage in an empowering process where their voices are heard. In practice, this requires various forms of restorative justice practices to be available to meet individual circumstances. 

 

Second, restorative justice should continue to proceed as a voluntary process, implemented with the willingness and consent of the victims and offenders to achieve its aims. In other words, restorative justice ought not be viewed as a cost-saving and non-personal process, but rather as an ‘empowering justice process’ that deals with crime in a personal and multidimensional way. 

 

Third, the study found that regardless of the availability of funding and legal framework to support the practice of restorative justice in a way that would not compromise the rights of the victims and offenders, the current use of restorative justice is limited. Particularly, the law positively allows for restorative justice to be present before sentencing, but it is usually offered after sentencing, and at a significantly lower proportion to offenders in comparison to victims. Restorative justice should be available for all types of crime, and more importantly, at all stages of the criminal justice process. This would ensure that the individual needs of the victims and offenders are aligned and met. 

 

Fourth, the study found that the levels of awareness about restorative justice are low. The success of restorative justice practices lies on educating the victims and offenders through communicating the variety of processes and types of restorative justice practices. This would lessen the perceptions of restorative justice as a ‘lenient’ alternative for offenders and ensure that the realities about restorative justice meet the expectations of the victims and offenders.  

 

The study goes beyond current research on restorative justice.

 

It advances the views of individuals involved in restorative justice processes to evaluate the emergence of new forms of restorative justice practices. These findings could be used to evaluate whether new forms of restorative justice processes align with the essence of restorative justice theories. The study has allowed me to recognise the advantages of applying restorative justice in contexts beyond petty offenses and juvenile crime. It is surprising to find that the interests of victims and offenders are more or less aligned. In restorative justice literature, one common worry about the translation of restorative justice from theory to practice is the misalignment between the interests of stakeholders. Additionally, the study has informed my understanding on the importance of fair labelling on the operation of criminal justice processes in practice. The use of the term ‘victim-led restorative justice’ may be detrimental to advancing the restorative justice movement in a way that associates with dominant theoretical approaches of restorative justice. Restorative justice focuses on the rights all those involved in a crime. The implementation of restorative justice in a way that seems to prioritise the rights of one party over another may discourage engagement with these processes in the long term. 

 

Reem Radhi, LLB (Hons); PgDip; MSc; LLM; Attorney-at-Law (New York).

 

Reem is an RJ4All Associate. To join the RJ4All scheme follow this link


The paper can be accessed via the publisher. RJ4All team members have access through their membership. 

 

References

 

[1] Brooks, T. (2012). Punishment. Oxford: Routledge, p.227.

 

[2] Graef, R. (2011). Why Restorative Justice? Repairing the Harm Caused by Crime. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, p.9.

 

[3] Braithwaite, J. (1999). ‘Restorative Justice: Assessing Optimistic and Pessimistic Accounts’Crime & Just.(25), pp.1-127, p.1.

 

[4]Brooks, T. (2012). Punishment. Oxford: Routledge, pp.65-78; Graef, R. (2011). Why Restorative Justice? Repairing the Harm Caused by Crime. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, p.9.

 

[5]Gavrielides, T. (2018). ‘Victims and the Restorative Justice Ambition: A London Case Study of Potentials, Assumptions and Realities.’ Contemporary Justice Review, DOI: 10.1080/10282580.2018.1488129, pp.1-22, pp. 20-21.

 

 

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