Sawatsky, Jarem. Worth Reading
Bazemore, Gordon and Mara Schiff, eds. Restorative Community Justice Repairing Harm and Transforming Communities. Ohio: Anderson Publishing Co. 2001 375 pp.
This book reads as a "who's who" of restorative and community justice. It is an excellent overview of critical and emerging issues facing the field. What it lacks in consistency, readability and continuity, it gains in breadth and seemingly unedited reflections of key practitioners and theoreticians.
Restorative and Community Justice: A Proposed Marriage
The editors' basic premise is that the two fields of restorative justice and community justice are converging in both values and so of practice. This is a movement the authors want to encourage, thus the new name "restorative community justice." In relation to this goal, I remain intrigued but unconvinced.
Community justice seems to be a movement that comes not from the community but from the system, directed at the community. Restorative Justice seems to be a movement that comes from the community, directed at the system. These divergent beginnings are mentioned, but not enough attention is given to these dynamics to convince me. If bringing these fields together means strengthening/broadening restorative justice's focus on community and structural issues creating crime conÃÂditions, then I think this could be a good marriage. If, however, this marriage brings restorative justice closer to "the system," which is the parent of community justice, then I foresee trouble.
This issue is touched on in the opening articles but is pushed out more clearly by the concluding article, which outlines four possible futures for restorative community justice. The final future, the restorative ideal, presents a mainstream dominant restorative community justice system. I believe this is a vision of co-optation and the re-institutionalization of justice- the very movement restorative justice reacts against. Restorative justice cannot be systematized, institutionalized or forced on the whole public. The editors' suggestion of the broad systematization of restorative community justice as the ideal vision leads me to ask many questions: Do they understand the nature of justice? Do they understand the nature of systems? Do they see any problems with community justice being state initiated?
Defending a Vision
The editors' second last chapter focuses on the dangers and opportunities facing the movement(s). This chapter is the place for the authors to bring together that which has gone before. Having asked leading scholars and practitioners to reflect "not on the basics but on growing edges of the movement" this is the opportunity for the editors to tie it all together. However, the editors again fall short. They spend most of the time "turning down the volume" on any critiques offered in the previous chapters. The tone seems defensive, even while the rhetoric encourages critical response. It seems they did not want the authors to engage as critically as they did. The learnings that could have been drawn from the preceding chapters get mostly overlooked.
So far this review has been quite critical. That is not the whole story. Many interesting concepts and thoughts have been raised and refined by my reading of this text. I will close by listing some of those concepts.
Restorative justice is seen quite broadly as a principle-based approach in harms. I was a bit surprised by the regularity that the term "principle-based" was used. (This is the single most common remedy for the potential dangers facing restorative justice.) While it is commonly referred to as principle-based, it is not dear if there is consensus on what this means.
Restorative justice is often critiqued as reactive due to being case focused. It feels as if this is a reduction of what restorative justice is. Indeed, victim offender mediation is reactive without much of an attempt to address originating or structural violence. Restorative justice must better address structural issues- Dave Dyck's article helps with this. However, I felt that restorative justice was given less credit than practice and theory seem to suggest.
Satisfaction as restorative justice indicator. There are many positive and natural elements to this concept. If justice should address the needs of those involved, then asking if their needs have been satisfied is an indicator grounded in the essence of the vision of justice. Satisfaction as indicator would likely keep the focus of theory and practice on the needs of people, as opposed to reducing it to the needs of the system or to effective processes. However, a vision of justice developed out of practices designed to make everyone happy -- which is what a satisfaction indicator could likely degenerate into -- is hardly one that I could reconcile with the justice that Jesus taught. Jesus was ultimately killed by the system because his vision of justice was too threatening and radical for them-they were anything but satisfied.
The myth of community. Much of restorative justice theory relies on some concept of an active community. The growth of restorative justice practice indicates that there are indeed communities of care ready to unleash their creative and restorative potential. However, I continue to have concerns of whether we will find enough resources for restorative justice to work in a highly individualistic and highly mobile community. This type of community is still in denial that it is without resources and in need of others. This may be a comment underestimating what people can do. I hope that I will be surprised.
Conciliation Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 3
Reprinted with permission from Mennonite Conciliation Service.