Is restorative justice a compass without a needle?
Sep 28, 2011
....an important new contribution by Dorothy Vaandering. (“A faithful compass: rethinking the term restorative justice to find clarity.” Contemporary Justice Review, Vol 14, No. 3, Sept 2011, 307-328).
Vaandering’s research and experiences are in the realm of education, but she speaks to the field as a whole, warning that although it has offered a compass, the compass has been lacking a needle.
Overall, she worries that ambiguity about the meaning of the term has led to the field being discredited and also encouraged bad practice. The fact that practice has moved ahead of theory from the beginning has been another source of confusion. In addition, when the term “justice” is used, an over-emphasis on criminal justice models and applications has led to an undue focus on rights and fairness that has pulled the field off-course.
....Vaandering helpfully revisits Gavrielides’ 5 fault lines, arguing that the lack of a clear understanding of both “justice” and “restorative” contributes to these misunderstandings and divisions.
- RJ as new paradigm or RJ as pragmatic, parallel approach
- RJ as process vs RJ as outcome
- RJ as mediation (only immediate stakeholders) or RJ as conferencing (involving a larger definition of stateholders)
- RJ as coercive vs RJ as voluntary
- RJ principles as flexible or RJ principles as inflexible.
The core of her exploration, Vaandering notes, are these questions: What is justice? What is being restored? How can the term justice be used within various fields without eliciting connotations of crime (including its objectifying tendencies)?
The justice component of restorative justice must not be lost, Vaandering argues, and a clear understanding of the meaning of “justice” will not only clarify the “restorative” part but will help address these fault lines.
What is really at stake, she concludes, is what it means to be human. The compass is missing a needle. That can be provided by a broader understanding of justice, one that explicitly acknowledges our humanity and what that implies.