Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Understanding Restorative Justice-How Empathy Can Close the Gap Created by Crime

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Understanding Restorative Justice-How Empathy Can Close the Gap Created by Crime

Article excerpt


Pete Wallis (2014). Bristol: Policy Press. pp 224 (pbk) 12.99 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 978-144731742-5

'Understanding Restorative Justice' is an interesting read for those concerned with this important and expanding field, combining practical insight with a theoretical foundation as to why 'empathy' is the essential ingredient for the successful resolution of crime related harm. In this respect the book makes an innovative contribution to the literature.

Although the declared intent is to provide a resource suitable for general readership, the book is unmistakably written from the experienced practitioner's perspective, and at times appears to focus more on a practitioner-orientated audience. That being said, it does provide a very good grounding in what Restorative Justice ('RJ') is all about, highlighting relevant academic and empirical research as well as explaining the realities and practical mechanics of facilitating the RJ process. The easy conversational style, use of topic and sub-headings, cartoon-type illustrations, list of current resources and key texts, certainly provides both a comprehensive and readable introduction to the 'restorative approach.' In some respects it is arguable that its simplicity of form and presentation belies the significance of this work.

What makes this an innovative contribution to the field is that Pete Wallis has focused on the interaction between the offender ('the person responsible') and the victim ('the person harmed') and provides a cogent explanation as to why empathy is 'the driver' for the RJ process. Using Simon Baron-Cohen's recent work on the link between offending and low empathy, Wallis takes the reader on the restorative journey explaining how at the point of the offence a 'gap' is created between the parties despite the fact that the harm inextricably links them together. As the author points out, empathy 'is a notoriously complex topic' of interest to scholars in a variety of disciplines, and so in introducing the subject, the construct (supported by useful authorities) is defined in the context of restorative practice. More importantly, Wallis explains the need for 'resonant empathy': the restorative process is dynamic, where parties are carefully brought closer together on the 'restorative journey' to heal the harm, through a greater understanding of the other's perspective.

Through the following thirteen chapters, the six 'levels' of empathy are explored. At the outset the harm creates the 'gap'. Those who are hurt or are unhappy understandably focus on their suffering and it is difficult to see the perspective of anyone else. This applies as much to the person responsible for the harm as the person harmed, for, as has been suggested by others, there is arguably a link between the causes of crime and unhappiness and such unhappiness causes us to focus 'on the self'. …

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