Restorative Justice Dialogue: An essential guide for research and practice
Oct 07, 2010
reviewed by Eric Assur:
Inviting Howard Zehr, known as the grandfather of restorative justice (RJ), to write the forward of this book is reflective of the wisdom of the two authors, both social work professors and founders of peace and justice programs in large university settings. Zehr compliments Umbreit and Armour for writing a valuable ‘state of the union’ book to summarize how the discipline has grown in thirty years.
It is difficult to find flaws in this eleven chapter review of the philosophy, practices and programs which fit under the rubric of RJ. Unlike an anthology or collection of journal articles or chapters written by many authors, this book reflects the smooth writing style, with a few helpful tables and easy to follow figures, of the Umbreit-Armour team. They offer the up to date and well documented wisdom of many subject area experts in a comprehensive and cogent fashion.
They use the first chapter to define and locate RJ. They start with and then expand on Zehr’s original definition and description. In the second chapter they expound on the RJ movement through the orientation of social work. RJ is far more than the concern for victims and offenders. The RJ orientation, like social work, seeks positive, behavioral changes without castigation and alienation. Values which are fundamental to RJ include the notion that the community and individuals, not the state, are to be viewed as the victims of crimes. Such violations of the citizenry create obligations and opportunities to restore relationships.
RJ developed in part as a reaction to the mid twentieth century criminal justice system which became more punishment focused, showed zero tolerance and reflected a “punitive philosophy” which did not “impact the powerful tendency of offenders to continue in criminal behavior" (p. 36).
The authors opine that the growing interest in RJ is a logical response to several decades where “order, control, and punishment clashed” with concern for recovery of victims or the development of self-determination and change in offenders. Orange County, Calif. and Washington Co.(near St. Paul) Minnesota are examples of the large programs now providing RJ options in close to a thousand cases a year.
Subsequent chapters discuss RJ as a social work movement, spirituality, victim-offender work, peacemaking circles, family group conferencing, the globalization of RJ thinking, and the role of the facilitator in RJ processes. The focus is on North American practices, but these are supplemented with ample examples of model programs from New Zealand and Australia. Canadian and Native American peacemaking initiatives are presented as examples of more recent innovations in justice and school discipline.
As someone “present at creation” during the early days of victim offender mediation, Umbreit’s perspective is informative and helpful. In several chapters that authors acknowledge the contributions of faith groups in developing the new paradigm of restorative justice, particularly those of the Mennonite communities in Kichener, Ontario and Elkhart, Indiana in 1974 and 1978.
Even the well informed follower of domestic and international ‘alternative dispute resolution’ is likely to learn from this book. It will certainly help those unfamiliar with RJ to develop a firm foundation for their application of its potentially beneficial tools. Each chapter ends with four or five pages of recent books and articles. The few graphics are helpful and contribute to understanding the narrative.
Umbreit, perhaps one of the most prolific RJ scholars, and his co-author well realized that they needed to be future oriented. The history of RJ, only a few decades long, is dynamic. It seems that each year RJ thinking or philosophy expands into different venues. Clemson, Skidmore, Colorado State and the University of Michigan have adopted restorative disciplinary systems that are less punitive and more instructive or corrective in nature. Prisons in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington State allow victims (or victim surrogates) to meet with selected prisoners.
Restorative Justice Dialogue is adequately annotated and indexed. It is neither a tome nor a text. With the exception of three pages or a dozen probing questions at the end of chapter one, the book lacks the earmarks of a book designed for the classroom. Despite this, it can be anticipated that some college students will see this book in their social work and criminal justice course reading lists in 2011-2012. All who deal with the justice system, not just the victims, will want to be familiar with the trends and concepts (as well as specific programs) outlined in this book.