Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Comparing the Implementation of Restorative Justice in Various Countries: Purpose, Potential and Caveats

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Comparing the Implementation of Restorative Justice in Various Countries: Purpose, Potential and Caveats

Article excerpt

Abstract

The aim of this contribution is to deal with the purposes, benefits and caveats of comparative studies in the field of restorative justice. This consideration is of first importance since more and more international conferences, seminars or 'fora' are dealing with the issue of comparison2. The paper will examine the structural conditions for the increasing interest in comparative approach, especially in Europe; highlight the relevance of undertaking comparative studies in the field of restorative justice; point to the main difficulties in developing comparative evaluative research; present two important methodological positions in developing comparisons between different countries' development; and the conclusion will elaborate upon potential and caveats of both methods and suggest a framework of implementation for comparative studies in the field of restorative justice.

Key Words: Restorative justice, comparative studies, evaluation, European trends, intensive comparison, Denmark.

Introduction

The aim of this contribution is to deal with the purpose, benefits and caveats of comparative studies in the field of restorative justice. This reflection is of first importance since more and more international conferences; seminars or 'fora' are dealing with the issue of comparison2. In the recent work of the European Concerted Research Action "Restorative Justice Developments in Europe" funded by the EU Commission, the comparative approach is at the forefront: this Action tries "to enhance and to deepen knowledge on theoretical and practical aspects of restorative justice in Europe, with the view to supporting implementation strategies in a scientifically sound way".

This article found its inspiration in the work performed in the framework of this Action, in particular in the work of the working group analysing and developing upon existing evaluative research on restorative justice, as well as in previous research experiences in comparative studies (Lemonne, 2000, Lemonne 2001a; Lemonne; 2001b; Lemonne, 2003; Lemonne and Vanfraechem, 2005). It provides a good opportunity to build on the debate concerning the purpose, potential and difficulties of dealing with comparisons in the field of restorative justice. The first section will examine structural conditions for the increasing interest for the comparative approach, especially in Europe. A second section will highlight the relevance of performing comparative studies in the field of restorative justice. A third section will point to the main difficulties in developing comparative evaluative research3. A fourth section will present two important methodological positions in conducting comparisons between different countries' development. Finally, the conclusion will elaborate upon potentials and caveats of both methods and suggest a framework for comparative studies in the field of restorative justice.

Current Trends in European Societies and Development of Comparative Studies in the Field of Restorative Justice

Though crossing boundaries in scientific research has always had a "universal appeal" (Pakes, 2004:13), the reasons to compare can be various and "cannot always be specified from the outset" (Nelken, 1994). However, it is possible to point to some current trends in the European society, which give more weight to the increasing importance and relevance of a comparative approach to the criminal justice system in general and of restorative justice in particular.

Primarily, the slow emergence of a European 'community' leads to the identification of similar challenges in different criminal justice systems. Indeed, changes in some political systems and national boundaries (as for example the enormous changes in the ex-Soviet bloc, the general political trend towards neo-liberalism, the tensions existing between Western countries and those in the Middle East) lead to the production of new forms of social order and social control arrangements, especially in Western countries4. …

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