Academic journal article The Prevention Researcher

Introducing Restorative Justice: Re-Visioning Responses to Wrongdoing: Restorative Justice Asks Us to Re-Vision How We Define Wrongdoing and the Processes We Use to Right the Wrong

Academic journal article The Prevention Researcher

Introducing Restorative Justice: Re-Visioning Responses to Wrongdoing: Restorative Justice Asks Us to Re-Vision How We Define Wrongdoing and the Processes We Use to Right the Wrong

Article excerpt

Learning about restorative justice involves examining conventional thinking about crime (or wrongdoing generally), values in relation to how people associated with wrongdoing are treated, and best responses when a wrongdoing occurs. In this introductory article, I highlight key developments in the restorative movement and main distinctions between the conventional and restorative justice approaches. 1 describe what restorative justice interventions involve and consider claims about effectiveness. In the article's conclusion,

I note ongoing tensions and recent innovations in the field.

THE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE MOVEMENT

The social upheaval that began in the 1960s was significant to the restorative justice movement (1). During the half-century prior to the 1960s, the criminal justice system's mandate expanded from detention and punishment to include rehabilitation and deterrence of future misbehavior. This shift was due to pressure from various human rights movements. Although the criminal justice system remained offender focused, advocacy groups made some progress toward recognizing victims' rights. Despite these modifications, reformers pressed for additional changes to improve prison conditions, rehabilitate inmates, and more meaningfully respond to victims' needs.

Emerging during the confluence of reform forces and social turbulence was the work of several individuals key in the restorative justice movement. Particularly influential, Christie (1977) criticized the practice of conceptualizing crime as an offense against the state. He described this as "theft" of conflict from its rightful owners--the community and especially the victim(s) harmed by the offense. Christie encouraged community ownership of wrongdoing and argued that the needs and wishes of victims should take center stage in addressing the harm. Programs designed to accomplish these restorative ends developed at such a pace that, by 1985, Howard Zehr predicted that "making things right ... would replace the imposition of pain as the expected outcome in new paradigm justice" (p. 15). While still contentious, one of the most frequently cited definitions describes restorative justice as "a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future" (Marshall, 1996, p. 37).

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE: A COMPARATIVE EXPLANATION

Zehr is now recognized as a "leading visionary" of restorative justice (Umbreit& Armour, 2011, pp. 17-18). In The Little Book of Restorative Justice (2002), Zehr identified three questions focal to conventional (retributive) criminal justice and the alternative restorative models. From the perspective of the conventional model, important questions include: What laws or rules were broken?, Who broke them?, and What do they deserve? When the lens is adjusted to focus restoratively rather than retributively (Zehr, 1990), important questions become, Who has been hurt?, What are their needs?, and Who has the obligation to address the needs and put right the harm?

Viewed through a retributive lens, wrongdoings are seen as discrete events through which laws or rules are broken. The event activates a search for facts to prove the innocence or guilt of the alleged offender relative to the system of laws codified over centuries (What laws have been broken?). During this process, the wrongdoing becomes increasingly removed from its contextual social dynamics and the focus narrows on the alleged wrongdoer (Who broke them?). When guilt is established, consequences are largely pre-determined through reference to classifications of sentences. The primary strategy in response to wrongdoing is punishment (What do they deserve?). Retributive justice requires that harms be understood relative to states' legal codes rather than victims' experiences; it is the state rather than the victim(s) that holds the wrongdoer accountable. …

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