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What the Heck Is Restorative Justice

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Restorative justice describes a further measure which society can adopt as a response to criminal offence. However, it does have the potential to develop into a penal strategy that could either replace or work in conjunction with existing penal strategies. One current penal strategy, incapacitation, sees the victim as the main priority, protecting them (along with wider society) from the actions of criminals. Historically this would have been achieved through transportation of such criminals, however now this is associated with imprisonment. Whilst the offender does not have the ability to reoffend whilst imprisoned, it does not necessarily prevent them reoffending upon release back into society. Figures released from the ministry of justice show that 29.0% of male offenders from January to March 2017 reoffended within a year.

Restorative justice is based upon the following – ‘values, aims and processes that have as their common factor attempts to repair the harm caused by criminal behaviour’. Most recently restorative justice has entailed one-to-one mediation and conferencing. Conferencing can involve, family conferencing community group conferencing and peace-making circles. The facilitator during restorative schemes plays a large role.They should not be bias or have any hidden agendas towards either party. They should be impartial when asking questions and inviting people to speak or share their thoughts. Conferencing refers to process that brings people together to reach an understanding and repair the harm caused by crime or conflict. Positive justice, reintegrative justice and reparative justice are all associated with forms of restorative justice. They are all linked by the primary objective, that is, building peace instead of fighting crime.

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The main aim of current penal strategies is to condemn wrongful behaviour. Such processes were/are based upon retributive principle, the sentencer knowingly inflicted a level of pain onto the offender. Advocates for restorative justice claim that it is a far more ethical and more effective approach to condemning criminal behaviour. Whilst aspects of restorative justice, such as face-to-face meetings with the victim, may cause some distress for the perpetrator, it would not be intentionally inflicted on them. Restorative justice focuses on why the behaviour is being condemned by exploring the harmful damage that the criminal act has had on an individual or society.

Restorative justice provides communities with the opportunity to try and resolve conflict arising from criminal behaviour. While authority officials still play a large role in the restorative justice process, by the way they set the legal framework, the community, along with the aid of an enabler or facilitator to decide how criminals are to make amends with their victims, through the conferencing process. Rather than using coercive social control to condemn illegal or negative behaviour, restorative justice looks are making good the wrong doings. Restorative justice sees crime as more than breaking law, it can harm families, relationships and the community. Bringing those individuals together in order to reach a resolution benefits both the community/individuals affected and the criminal.

A key aspect of restorative justice is that it does attempt to establish guilt, rather it is empowering to the victim, it looks to the future and attempts to reintegrate individuals back into the community. In order for this process to be ‘fully restorative’, it must involve all three of the affected parties, the individual responsible for the crime, the individuals harmed by the crime, and the community affected by the crime. Without all three parties taking part, full restorative justice is not possible. For the process to begin, the individual responsible for the crime must take responsibility and accept what they have done. The first step is reviewing exactly what happened, going over the facts of the crime. The second is to focus on who was harmed by the behaviour, and how this has impacted them. Finally, the third step is to establish what happens next and how the participants move forward. If the process is disrespectful, damaging or unsafe at any point then it has not been restorative.

For Braithwaite, he focused on the immediate effects of shaming after a crime has been committed, and the relation shaming has on either higher or lower crime rates. Braithwaite established the difference between condemning the individual or condemning the act the individual has committed. As an alternative to the labelling, Braithwaite focused on reintegrative shaming and disintegrative shaming. Reintegrative shaming attempts to bring the offender back into society as a deviant. Disintegrative shaming cuts of the tie between the offender and the society, this shaming can potentially lead to the creation of outsider, who no longer fit in with ‘normal’ society, in turn a new society of ‘subcultures’ is created. This can lead to higher levels of re-offending for the individual in the future. Reintegrative shaming involves exposing the individual who committed the crime to the direct stories/accounts from those harmed. This makes it challenging for perpetrator to deny harm they have caused. Rather than stigmatising shame, a supportive approach is taken, whilst still condemning the behaviour, restorative justice focuses on an individual’s ability to change, along with their moral worth.

The case of Tony and his mother, shows the positive response/affect restorative justice have on all that are affected. Tony had been out with his 99-year-old mother pushing her in her wheelchair, when they arrived back just outside of the sheltered accommodation where she lived, her handbag was grabbed from the arm of the wheelchair where it had been placed. Tony was pushed to the floor while the boy who grabbed the bag ran off. With instinct kicking in, Tony chased the young boy, leaving his mother calling for help. Further down the road, Tony had managed to catch up with the boy. The bag had keys and other important items inside. Tony asked told the boy he could have the money, but he would need the bag and the rest of the contents back. As Tony did not know if the boy was armed, he did as the boy asked, and gave him the money.

Throughout the encounter, Tony remembers the boy repeatedly apologising for what he was doing. This led Tony to believe that someone else may have forced the young boy to commit the crime. Tony’s mother was left incredibly shaken following the day’s events. Upon returning to the sheltered accommodation, the warden reported the crime to the police, shortly after the young boy was arrested following a positive report from an eye witness. As the boy pleaded guilty, there was no need for either Tony or his mother to appear in court. Tony heard about restorative justice programmes from a friend and decided to follow it up. Tony was put in contact with the Youth Offending team dealing with the case. Tony met with the mediator ahead of the meeting, who explained the process, so Tony had an idea of what to expect. Tony’s mother was unable to attend the meeting as she was increasingly frail. But for Tony, he really wanted the meeting to go ahead.

Tony describes how throughout the meeting he was upset for his mother – and what she had been through, and the harm it had caused her. However, as the meeting progressed, Tony felt more and more sorry for the young boy, Sam. At only 14, Sam explained how someone had coerced him into stealing the bag, the person gave Sam a time limit, and that’s why he committed the crime. Sam explained how sorry he was for any harm he had caused. For Tony, the fact that Sam was even willing to meet him meant a lot and showed remorse.

Tony forgave Sam for what he had done to both him and his mother. Following the meeting, Tony describes how the anger towards Sam had left him, he expressed


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