The promise of restorative justice: New approaches for criminal justice and beyond
Jan 28, 2011
Reviewed by Martin Wright
It is becoming increasingly clear that the principles of restorative justice can be used, as the editors say, outside the formal criminal justice system, and this book bears witness to that. Half is about criminal justice, and half about other applications in schools and elsewhere. The contributors reflect the book’s origins among a group at Fresno Pacific University in California, but other chapters come from Bulgaria, Canada, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Three chapters stand out: in the first half two personal testimonies from the mother of a disabled daughter who was raped, and the wife of a sex offender. Both had previous knowledge of restorative principles, but applying them was not easy. For both it is unfinished business; the offender is in prison but mediation has not taken place so far. Jill Schellenberg notes ways in which the criminal justice process could be improved; Shannon Moroney was treated with breathtaking insensitivity by her employer, and needed the circle of support provided by concerned colleagues. She speaks for both of them, and for many victims, saying ‘I did not get a choice about what happened to me, but I did have a choice about how I responded to it, [and I could] allow this experience to shape my life but not to control it’ (p. 101). A third personal account ends the book: a mother tells how her son died in a workshop accident, his organs were donated for transplant surgery, and a restorative attitude helped her to come to terms with her loss.
Other chapters deal with innovations in correctional settings, where a plan for building up victims and offenders is preferable to ‘a measured dose of punishment’ which further damages them (p. 15); working with sex offenders, with some individual success stories from circles of support and accountability (COSA); and a community response to elder abuse, where circles of support can be used for victims, and more stories of (partial) successes are given. John Dussich writes about linkages between victim assistance and restorative justice, with a warning (quoting Kathy Daley) that the benefits claimed only happen some of the time.
Julie Abril describes how the Southern Ute Indians of Colorado deal with problems including elder abuse, deviant youth behaviour and interpersonal conflicts. As a European perspective Dobrinka Chankova gives an account of recent Bulgarian legislation, which goes some way towards enabling mediation, and presents a survey of lawyers, police, victims, offenders and members of the public, showing a fair amount of support for mediation. Part I ends, controversially, with restorative justice and the death penalty; Howard Zehr describes ‘Defence Initiated Victim Outreach’. It does not aim to avoid the death penalty but to meet the needs of relatives of victims; and Zehr acknowledges that it carries risks in the hands of untrained people.
The broader world touched on by Part II includes politics, business, schools and athletics. The title ‘restorative politics’ raised hopes of avoiding adversarial ‘yah-boo’ political argument, but the chapter is confined to brief descriptions of post-conflict peace processes. Duane Ruth-Heffelbower found much scope for restorative practices in business; the US Postal Service introduced it with success after a decade in which feuds between workers led to 40 deaths. [Perhaps the National Rifle Association should encourage gun owners to learn about non-violent communication? M W] A useful example of a grievance procedure is given. On schools, Marian Liebmann sets out systematically the various models in use in England, with case studies; Dennis Wong shows how serious bullying was dealt with in Hong Kong. Both emphasise the need for a ‘whole-school approach’, supported by research findings in Wong’s chapter, and both give useful descriptions of how the process works. Ron Claassen and Zenebe Abebe describe how restorative practice was introduced at Fresno Pacific University, with training for all; this led to a higher number of cases being resolved informally.
Dennis Janzen’s chapter on restorative discipline in athletics shows that punishment-based discipline can be damaging, and recommends instead a philosophy of respect: the main sanction is the knowledge that you have let teammates down. Sport and athletics can be about social teaching, not just winning and losing. But the chapter gives little detail about the restorative process, nor about the ‘significant consequences’ (p. 214) which may have to be used. Ruth-Heffelbower has a further chapter, on disaster management, with a good account of the disappointing chaos among aid agencies after the tsunami in Sumatra. A strategy for disasters should include planning, implementation – and conflict resolution, because conflict is inevitable. The test for a plan should be: Does it strengthen or weaken community ‘connectors’ and ‘dividers’ (this is reminiscent of the Navajo nation in the south-western United States, who ask ‘Does it tend towards harmony or disharmony?’)?
This collection is welcome for exploring the growing concept of restorative practices beyond criminal justice into other field. In one or two cases it might be felt that ordinary empathetic feelings and managerial good practice were being re-labelled with the word ‘restorative’; but that is no bad thing if it helps to spread the ideal that the restorative movement, and experience in other cultures and countries, can show people how to handle powerful emotions constructively.