Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Evaluating Victims Experiences in Restorative Justice

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Evaluating Victims Experiences in Restorative Justice

Article excerpt


Although restorative justice is often presented as a victim-oriented reform of criminal justice procedures, there is a relative dearth of research and theory into the experiences of victims within restorative justice. Recently Heather Strang, Lawrence Sherman and their associates (2003, 2004, 2006) started to develop theory and research that attempts to fill this relative void. This article is an attempt to contribute to the further understanding of the effects of restorative justice conferencing on victims. Taking Strang and Sherman's work as a starting point, it discusses various issues relating to research and theory of victims within restorative justice.

First of all there is the need to pay more attention to victim variety within research into restorative justice. Needs, opinions and traits of victims differ from one victim to the next and one situation to the next. Generalized needs therefore must be qualified. Secondly the comparison between criminal justice and restorative justice is complicated. The independent effect of the criminal justice system on victims makes it difficult to use it as the control group for restorative justice conferences. In addition it is difficult to discern the working element of restorative justice conferences: why do restorative justice conferences outperform criminal justice procedures?

Emotional restoration finally is maybe the most important issue concerning victims in restorative justice. Using two central victim reactions to crime, anxiety and anger and drawing on psychological theory and practice concerning victims outside of the criminal justice system, the article develops a theoretical base for understanding victims emotional reactions within restorative justice.

Introduction: Victims and Restorative Justice

There seems to be little doubt that restorative justice is intended to be in the interests of victims of crime. In academic textbooks the two are often paired1 and legislation concerning restorative justice pays homage to the plight and position of victims of crime2. Repairing the harm caused by crime is central to restorative justice, and assisting victims in their recovery is considered to be a core element3.

In contrast, theoretical work and evaluation research concerning victims of crime is scarce. As Dignan (2005) points out, the three main intellectual traditions underlying restorative justice are quite ambivalent to the plight and position of victims of crime. Neither the civilization thesis championed by Hulsman, Bianchi and Mathiesen, the communitarian theories, most famously advocated by Christie (1977) in 'Conflicts as property', nor the moral-discourse theories, like Braidiwaite's (1989) reintegrative shaming theory, are aimed at achieving direct benefits for victims of crime4. Any added value for victims is a by-product.

Repair or Revenge?

The most developed view on victims in restorative justice has been put forward by Heather Strang in her research into the RISE-projects in Australia and subsequently developed by Strang, Lawrence Sherman and their associates in a number of publications (see Strang, 2002, Strang and Sherman, 2003, Sherman, Strang et al, 2005, Strang, Sherman et al, 2006). Central in their view is a set of victim needs, derived from research which highlighted the satisfaction and in particular the dissatisfaction of victims with the criminal system. First of all there are a number of process-related needs (Strang, 2002):

* Victims want a less formal process where their views count;

* Victims want more information about both the processing and outcome of their cases;

* Victims want to be treated respectfully and fairly;

* Victims want to participate in their cases.

Second there are a number of outcome related needs:

* Victims want material restoration;

* Victims want emotional restoration, including an apology.

Strang (2002) suggested that restorative justice addresses diese needs and would outperform the criminal justice procedures on most if not all these counts. …

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