Reintegrative Shaming, Procedural Justice, and Recidivism: The Engagement of Offenders' Psychological Mechanisms in the Canberra RISE Drinking-and-Driving Experiment

Article excerpt

Advocates of restorative justice (RJ) hypothesize that the diversion of criminal cases to RJ conferences should be more effective in lowering the rate of reoffending than traditional prosecution in court processing because the conferences more effectively engage the psychological mechanisms of reintegrative shaming and procedural justice. This study uses longitudinal data from the drinking-and-driving study in the Australian Reintegrative Shaming Experiments (RISE) to evaluate the long-term impact of reintegrative shaming and procedural justice on support for the law and on later recidivism as assessed through the use of police records and by self-report. Analysis first suggests that there is no direct effect of experimental condition on later recidivism. However, it further suggests that both traditional court-based prosecution and RJ conferences increase support for the law and lower the rate of future reoffending when they engage the social psychological mechanisms of reintegrative shaming and procedural justice and thereby increase the legitimacy of the law. Hence, the results argue for the potential value of procedures such as the RJ conference but indicate that those procedures will only achieve their objectives if they are effectively designed and implemented.

A core issue for legal authorities is better understanding how to bring people's behavior into compliance with the law (Tyler 2003, 2006a, 2006b). In an ideal society the issue of responding to rule-breaking would never arise, but societies never achieve this ideal and must often confront the question of how to deal with offenders and with the consequences of offending behavior. Lawbreaking confronts society with a number of issues, including how to constructively manage offenders who, after they are punished, might reoffend in the future. This article is concerned with the issue of how to deal with offenders so as to increase support for the law and lower the rate of subsequent reoffending.

One approach to lowering reoffending rates is to punish wrongdoers. Punishment incapacitates those who have broken the law during the time that they are in custody, inflicts the costs of punishment on them, and may instill fear of future punishment in them and in others. Deterrence-based strategies are the most common means used within the United States to decrease recidivism. Those strategies have been widely used and are often found to shape behavior (Nagin 1998), although their use has disadvantages, including that deterrence effects are often small (MacCoun 1993), that deterrence systems are costly to maintain, that they undermine the relationship between legal authorities and the public, and that they do not rehabilitate criminals, leading to high levels of recidivism (Luna 2003).

The problems associated with deterrence strategies are well known. However, it is not clear that more effective alternatives exist. In particular, rehabilitation, once thought to be the most important response to criminal behavior, has been argued to be ineffective (Allen 1981) and is unpopular among many public policy makers. If criminals cannot be rehabilitated, then the threat of punishment is often said, by default, to be the primary manner in which societies must maintain social order.

This study tests the effectiveness of two social psychological mechanisms for reducing recidivism: procedural justice and reintegrative shaming. Theory underpinning each of these mechanisms suggests that there are ways to respond to wrongdoing that increase offenders' support for and likelihood of future compliance with the law.

While many types of experience could potentially activate these psychological mechanisms, both have been linked to the use of restorative justice (RJ) conferences in lieu of prosecution through the courts. In such conferences offenders meet with the victim in the company of their friends and family and other interested parties, in the presence of a trained facilitator. …


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