Unlikely Friends? Oprah Winfrey and Restorative Justice

By Richards, Kelly M. | Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Unlikely Friends? Oprah Winfrey and Restorative Justice


Richards, Kelly M., Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology


In recent years, restorative justice has surfaced as a new criminal justice practice in diverse parts of the world. Often, it appears that these practices have emerged in complete isolation from one another. This prompts us to question what it is that has allowed restorative justice to become an acceptable way of dealing with criminal justice issues, or in Foucault's terms, the 'conditions of emergence' of restorative justice. This article explores one of numerous potential 'conditions of emergence' of restorative justice--the discourses of the therapeutic', 'recovery', 'self-help' and 'New Age' movements. It aims to investigate the ways in which the taken-for-granted nature of these discourses have, in part, permitted restorative practices to become an approved way of 'doing justice'.

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In recent decades and in the last 10 to 15 years in particular, the number of restorative justice initiatives adopted by governments and communities around the world has increased substantially. Although O'Malley (2000) cautions us not to confound the intellectual interest in various penal sanctions with their impact on the 'ground level of justice', it is clear that during the last quarter century there has been a proliferation of restorative justice programs around the world (Bottoms, 2003). One need only consult Miers' (2001) An International Review of Restorative Justice to determine the rapid growth of restorative programs in Europe, North America and Australasia. Restorative justice concepts have captured the academic imagination to the extent that Braithwaite (1996) has dubbed it 'the slogan of a global social movement' (p. 323). Although this is perhaps an overstatement, given that in some jurisdictions restorative justice 'has no more than a toehold in practice' (O'Malley, 2000, p. 155), it is safe to suggest, as Johnstone (2002) has done, that restorative justice 'is beginning to make significant inroads into criminal justice policy and practice' (p. ix).

Also during this time, a great deal of discussion on restorative justice has taken place; the sheer quantity of literature on this topic is rather daunting. In recent years in particular, a body of critical literature on restorative justice has emerged. In addition to the work of those we might call 'critical advocates' of restorative justice (such as Ashworth, 1993; Barton, 1999; Braithwaite, 1996, 1999; Daly, 1996, 1998; Johnstone, 2002), and outright rejections of restorative justice (such as Knox, 2001), critical examinations of restorative justice more generally have also been put forward. Stubbs (1997, 2004) and Hudson (1998, 2002), for example, consider restorative justice as it relates to gendered violence; Blagg (1998) addresses concerns about the use of restorative justice in indigenous communities; and Garkawe (1999) and Strang (2002) offer critical analyses of restorative justice from the perspective of victims' rights. A significant proportion of work on restorative justice, however, does not belong to this body of critical literature. Rather, there exists a substantial quantity of literature in which restorative justice is portrayed as an unproblematic solution to the extensive range of problems associated with traditional justice practices. The emergence of restorative justice as a new direction in which criminal justice policy should proceed is often uncritically accepted by advocates of restorative justice.

Many books and articles that intend to discuss restorative justice begin with a brief account of the 'birth' or 'origin' of restorative practices. Frequently, these accounts are glossed over in the way that Garland (1994) suggests that the history of criminology is often glossed over in textbooks and articles, becoming 'merely decorative, a routine flourish with little real purpose beyond getting started in a way that has come to be expected of authors' (p. 20).

What is intriguing about these brief accounts of the history of restorative justice is that they are often conflicting and contradictory; restorative justice is seemingly predicated on a wide range of religious, philosophical, political and social foundations (Pavlich, 2002, p.

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Unlikely Friends? Oprah Winfrey and Restorative Justice
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