European Perspectives on the Evaluation of Restorative Justice: Empathy, Offending and Attitudes, a Promising New Avenue for Research?

By Williams, Brian | British Journal of Community Justice, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

European Perspectives on the Evaluation of Restorative Justice: Empathy, Offending and Attitudes, a Promising New Avenue for Research?


Williams, Brian, British Journal of Community Justice


Abstract

While references are frequently made in the restorative justice literature to the desirability of eliciting empathy towards their victims from offenders, little is known about whether it is in fact worthwhile to do so. Does empathy towards victims influence offenders' future behaviour? Empathy itself is an ambiguous concept which has been defined in a variety of ways. The implications for the practice and evaluation of restorative justice are that considerably greater clarity is required; the use of common measures of empathy may also be helpful. A distinction needs to be made between perspective taking and empathy; it is suggested that there is a continuum between intellectualising about other's feelings, responding compassionately to them and actively communicating with them. It is concluded that practitioner involvement in the design of future research on this topic should help to avoid further confusion.

Key words; restorative justice evaluation, empathy, perspective taking, offenders

Introduction

In recent years, criminologists have become increasingly aware of and interested in the place of feelings and emotions in studying criminal justice (Arrigo and Williams, 2003; Karstedt, 2002; Masters and Smith, 1998). The emotions experienced by victims and offenders are clearly important in considering the relationship (or lack of one) between members of the two groups, and this forms a crucial part of restorative justice theorising. As Bottoms has pointed out, a successful restorative intervention involves the victim and the offender on a very personal and often deeply affective level:

"if the apologetic discourse is to be really meaningful... one must express genuine regret and remorse for an act that has breached a shared moral code, and the other must forgive. Only in this way can prior social relationships be 'restored', although... this process itself requires continual emotional work by the parties. . . the pain and regret of the sincere apology (often a difficult matter for the offender to express), followed by the equally difficult act of forgiveness offered (perhaps uncertainly) by the wronged person, have the power to effect a social transformation" (2003, p. 96).

Surprisingly little is known about the connection between offenders' feelings of empathy towards victims, and their likely future behaviour. While it is taken for granted in much of the literature about influencing offenders' behaviour that it must be a good thing to encourage and develop feelings of empathy (see for example Buonatesta, 2004; Walgrave, 2001; Morris and Maxwell, 2001; Briggs et al, 1998), there is a lack of empirical evidence on this issue (see van Stokkom, 2002). The assumption (and presumably many practitioners' experience supports it) is that any intervention which has the effect of increasing an offender's empathy towards the victim will:

strengthen internal inhibitions against re-offending, improve the capacity for intimacy in interpersonal relationships, and contribute to maintaining the motivation to change. With empathy the offender can no longer not perceive his victim's pain (Hildebran and Pithers, 1989, p. 238).

Whether it is worthwhile to try to elicit victim empathy in offenders is a crucial question from the point of view of restorative justice practitioners, policy-makers, victim support agencies and individual victims, and it is an issue which requires a major research effort if it is to be thoroughly addressed. Some work has already been done in this area, but it reveals some gaps in existing knowledge. There are dangers in attempting to elicit empathy towards victims in inappropriate cases: the 'anger' or 'revenge' rapist, for example, gains sexual satisfaction from hearing about the pain he has caused to victims (see Teague, 19932; Scully, 1990; Stevens, 2000), which might mean that those working with such offenders would generate counter-productive effects if they referred to victims' pain and suffering in the course of trying to elicit empathy in offenders. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

European Perspectives on the Evaluation of Restorative Justice: Empathy, Offending and Attitudes, a Promising New Avenue for Research?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.