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Book Review: A Restorative Justice Reader: Texts, Sources, and Context.

According to Gerry Johnstone, the international scope of the restorative justice movement and the diverse ideas and practices characterizing the movement create difficulties for individuals attempting to understand it. Since restorative justice is not a set of practices that grew out of single coherent theory but a paradigm of justice that grew out of practical experimentation with the theory growing as the practice grew, the underlying values and ideas are often hard to capture from the wide variety of material available. Johnstone states that "it is possible to read repetitive materials on a few aspects of restorative justice while never learning of other aspects." For this reason, he has worked to pull together a wide range of readings covering the restorative justice history and developments, theory and values, process and practices, and critical issues in a single volume, A Restorative Justice Reader: Texts, Sources, Contexts.
Edited by Gerry Johnstone. Devonshire, UK: Willan Publishing. ISBN: 1-903240-81-6

According to Gerry Johnstone, the international scope of the restorative justice movement and the diverse ideas and practices characterizing the movement create difficulties for individuals attempting to understand it. Since restorative justice is not a set of practices that grew out of single coherent theory but a paradigm of justice that grew out of practical experimentation with the theory growing as the practice, the underlying values and ideas are often hard to capture from the wide variety of material available. Johnstone states that "it is possible to read repetitive materials on a few aspects of restorative justice while never learning of other aspects."  For this reason, he has worked to pull together a wide range of readings covering the restorative justice history and developments, theory and values, process and practices, and critical issues in a single volume, A Restorative Justice Reader: Texts, Sources, Contexts. 

Johnstone introduces the readings in the volume by first describing the diversity of thought surrounding restorative justice with an introductory essay. He presents the difficulty of understanding or explaining restorative justice by describing the many different approaches taken by proponents of restorative justice. He provides diverse descriptions of restorative justice, including some of the more extreme ideas.  After this discussion of conceptions, Johnstone presents descriptions of different law models: criminal law, civil law, and restorative justice. From there, he moves into a discussion of the difficulty in evaluating restorative justice.  

The Reader is divided into five sections, each with an introduction to set the context for the materials presented and their significance in developing restorative justice theory. Section A, "Overviews and Early Inspirations," presents a thorough overview of restorative justice practices and early writings about the need to look for a new paradigm for understanding justice.

Section B, 'The background: legacies and frameworks", begins with a discussion of how anthropology and history is realizing that the ideas of restorative justice are not completely new. The essays provide background on western legal tradition, history of restorative justice, examples of aboriginal or indigenous practices, and a Christian perspective. They take the reader from a historical perspective on restorative philosophy to applications found in modern times.  

Section C, "Restorative Justice Practice: variations, development, and rationale," presents five essays detailing the development of practices often associated with restorative justice.  The first four essays cover the development of victim offender mediation/ reconciliation, family group conferencing in New Zealand, and the scripted model of conferencing in Australia. The final reading in this section compares four different processes often identified as restorative: mediation, conferencing, circles, and reparative boards.

In section D, "Doing restorative justice in modern society," the discussion moves from historical developments and descriptions to the relevance or appropriateness of restorative justice in the current criminal justice setting. The essays in this section tackle questions such as ' how should restorative justice fit into current criminal justice systems?'; 'what would a restorative justice system look like?'; 'what is the role of forgiveness?'; and 'how should community be defined?' 

In section E, 'Critical issues," Johnstone provides a group of essays that challenge the restorative justice movement. The first questions the rhetoric often used to promote restorative justice, which is seen as inflating the possiblities and offering possible danger if the claims are not met. From this point the essays move through a series of issues faced by the movement. These include the role of punishment in restorative justice, guarantees of human rights and procedural safeguards, and the appropriateness of restorative process in cases such as domestic or racial violence. The final essay offers some responses to the challenges often aimed at restorative justice by its critics.  

In all, A Restorative Justice Reader compiles many important writings influencing the restorative justice movement. It is an excellent reference for both neophytes to the restorative justice movement and long time practitioners and writers. 

 

Lynette Parker

September 2003

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