Restorative Justice and Practices in China

Article excerpt

Introduction

Restorative justice practices have grown rapidly in the past few decades with the emergence of new intervention strategies, standards, and principles in criminal justice. Evidence suggests that restorative processes-which empower crime victims, offenders, and communities to take an active part in resolving the impact of crime-increase public trust in the justice system and may reduce re-offending behaviour (Liebmann, 2007; Lo, Maxwell and Wong, 2006; Maxwell, 2007). In describing restorative justice, Zehr (1990) has contrasted retributive justice and restorative justice. He contends that criminal acts are a violation of people and relationships. Restorative justice involves all stakeholders and parties concerned in a search for solutions that promote repair, reconciliation, and reparation. While no absolute definition of restorative justice exists, the authors consider it as an approach for achieving justice, which is primarily oriented towards repairing the harm that has been caused by a crime and empowering all those affected, such as offenders, victims and their families. Van Ness, Morris, and Maxwell (2001) suggest that restorative justice is a movement within and outside of the criminal justice system. It poses new questions for societies to ask and answer in responding to crime.

Today, some communities advocate restorative practices for different types of offences, ranging from minor crimes to severe forms of criminal violence, such as arson, death from drunken driving, and even murder (Latimer, Dowden and Muise, 2005; Presser and Van Voorhis, 2002). On the basis of Zehr's recent observation, and building upon the experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, efforts are also being made to apply a restorative justice framework to situations of mass violence (Zehr, 2002). Though restorative justice practices are one of the new initiatives for dealing with youth offending in many western countries (Harris, 2008; Johnston and Van Ness, 2007; Van Wormer, 2008), there has been relatively little documentation of actual use of restorative justice in juvenile justice intervention in China. In this article, we first describe key themes of restorative justice and practices. We then highlight how restorative justice and practices have been operated in the present juvenile justice in China. Finally, we discuss the way ahead for the development of restorative justice.

Key themes of restorative justice

Restorative justice can be viewed as a philosophical, as well as practical, model that links policies and practices of different professional disciplines, such as criminal justice, crime prevention, offender rehabilitation, conflict management, and mediation (Bazemore and Schiff, 2005; Johnstone, 2002; Maxwell, 2007; Morris and Maxwell, 2001; Newell, 2007; Van Ness, 2003; Vides Saade, 2008; Walgrave, 2002; Wong, 2008; Zehr, 2002). The emergence of restorative justice was closely linked to a perception that a traditional criminal justice approach seemed ineffective in providing support to victims of crime and reintegrating offenders into the community. Accordingly, there is a need to develop new measures that are both victim-focused and restorative in nature (Bazemore, 2001; Bazemore and Umbreit, 2001; Morris and Maxwell, 2001; Zehr, 1990). Unlike traditional retributive justice approaches, a restorative justice approach is based on the belief that responsibility for crime control lies in the community, so the active involvement of community in the restoration process can control crime, reduce the stigmatisation of the offender, emphasise the strengthening of social bonds, and focus on prevention and risk management, which is beneficial for rebuilding relationships and communities (Hayes and Daly, 2004; Maxwell, Robertson, Morris and Cunningham, 2004; McCold, 2003). Interestingly, restorative justice is also closely associated to the reintegrative shaming theory (Braithwaite, 1989; Braithwaite and Mugford, 1994). …