Challenging the Evaluation of Norwegian Restorative Justice Experiences
Dale, Geir, Hydle, Ida, British Journal of Community Justice
This article describes the various restorative justice practices in Norway in which we have played significant roles, and then proposes a model for evaluation based upon these. In so doing it makes a case both for restorative justice and for evaluation as critical for assessing the value of restorative justice and for learning and improvement. The paper concludes with a short analysis of an example of evaluatory research applied to a particular restorative justice project.
Key words: evaluation, Norwegian restorative practices, juvenile justice, democracy, the action-learning cycle
Introduction: Norwegian Restorative Justice
The nationally organized mediation and reconciliation service (NMS) in Norway, Konfliktrådet, is a product of extensive political and professional debates on criminal policy throughout the 1970s and 1980s, especially concerning the adolescent population. Nils Christie, Professor in Criminology at the University of Oslo, held a particular position in this debate launching renowned lectures and publications proposing that professionals in general, and legal experts in particular, were "stealing the conflicts" from their rightful owners during criminal justice procedures. Christie argued that victims' and offenders' rights to their own conflicts should be restored (1977, 2004). Professor Christie's ideas and the political climate at the time converged into the creation of the Norwegian NMS (see also Kemény 2000) and the 1991 Act of Parliament regulating the mediation and reconciliation service, (Konfliktrad), as a permanent institution of criminal law. In the konfliktråd, the mediators/facilitators (meglere) must be laymen1, the parties (litigants) (partene) must meet face to face to face, and lawyers are as a rule kept out of the conference/mediation (storm0te/meglingsm0te). Thus, the format of mediation is fixed by law. The empowerment of communities and of the parties is central to the idea and the ethos of the konfliktrad.
The NMS handles both criminal and civil cases, about half of each, and in that sense may be seen as a hybrid between criminal and civil law. There are several other Norwegian public and private institutions that apply restorative practices outside the confines of the law, giving reasons for enlarging the field of study to other sectors. The street mediation project in Oslo, Gatemeglingsprosjektet, hosted and run by the Oslo Red Cross/Red Crescent, is one such project. Young persons with an immigrant origin experience liminality2 in multiple spheres where mainstream society defines what is welcomed as 'Self and what is cast out as 'Other' in the liminal terrains between European and nonEuropean. Meetings and workshops work restoratively with conflict and violence/crime prevention among these youth (Dale 2002 & 2006, Bitel 2002). Conferencing meetings are also held by the NMS and by the police and by the Street Mediation Project. One mosque is also actively engaged in this work, the Minhaj konfliktrad, administered by the mosque Idara Minhaj Ul-Quoran. This Islamic community has developed its own restorative justice practices, adopting models and methods of the mainstream society and actively seeking cooperation with mainstream institutions like the NMS, the Street Mediation Project of the Oslo Red Cross/Crescent, and the police.
Another area of restorative practices is the Child Welfare Service (CWS) where there is an ongoing national Family Group Conferencing project. In all there are 70 municipalities in Norway involved in the project. Family group conferences are meetings where professionals from the CWS, the extended family and friends make decisions and plans for resolving problems with a child or a young person. The conference is convened by an independent co-ordinator. It is a model for decision making in child welfare that involves the wider family, in partnership with social agencies, agreeing a plan to better meet the child's needs. …