Restorative justice: a new response to crime and conflict

Presentation to the Course on Mediation in penal matters and rights of victims,

Centro Ricerche e Interventi sullo Stress Interpersonale (CRISI)

Bari, Italy, 12 October 2011

Mediators sometimes say that they do not want a society without conflicts – it is unlikely to happen, and would perhaps be rather boring. Through the ages humankind has dreamt of peace. There has always been conflict, but also, side-by-side with it, co-operation (Kropotkin (1902/1987). In the Nguni languages of South Africa, ubuntu describes people who are generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate, and share what they have. They feel that they belong to a greater whole, and are diminished when others are tortured or oppressed (Tutu 1999: 34-5). The early Hebrews had a vision of shalom, often translated as ‘peace’, but including physical well-being, prosperity, social relationships and moral integrity (Zehr 1995: 130-2). A modern ideal is expressed by Illich:

 I choose the term “conviviality” to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society’s members. (Illich 1973: 11)

The Navajo people, in what is now the United States, do not ask whether something has absolute qualities such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but think in terms of the direction of travel: they ask ‘Is it hashkeeji (tending towards disharmony) or hozhooji (moving towards harmony)?’ (Ross 1996: 123). The latter phrase could be used to sum up the aura of meaning that has been acquired by the word ‘restorative.’

 With the help of mediation, conflicts can often be resolved before they become serious. If one person, or their property, has been harmed, the incident may be described in various ways, as an accident, a conflict, anti-social behaviour, or a crime; the person harmed and the one who caused the harm may wish to come together to talk about it, to express their feelings and discuss how the harm can be made good. Mediators help them to guide their dialogue. We will look firstly at the idea of restorative practices; then four examples of their use, including restorative justice itself and its application.

 The CRISI course which begins with this lecture covers mediation in civil matters, ‘alternative dispute resolution’, and in criminal cases. In England we prefer not to speak of ‘penal mediation’, because ‘penal’ means connected with punishment, which tends towards disharmony and what some politicians call ‘collateral damage’ (which means wounding or killing innocent people by mistake), and we are concerned with repair. The commonest term now is ‘restorative justice’. This has two central elements, dialogue and making amends, but the idea is broader than that. Firstly, dialogue is valuable for its own sake, to increase understanding on both sides, but it often needs a mediator to guide it. We also use the word ‘facilitator’. Secondly, the dialogue can enable the parties themselves to agree on what is necessary to put things right, or at least make them better, instead of asking an authority figure such as a judge to decide what is best for them. However, when a criminal act is involved, the criminal justice system may also have to be involved, and we will consider that later. Making amends can be done in many ways. It may not be possible to restore the victim to their previous state; or it may be desirable to make things better than before; or the amends may be symbolic: an apology, or perhaps a present.

 Mediation has a long history. When two people or groups cannot settle a conflict themselves, by force or discussion, they have two choices. One is to go to a wise person or group, a Solomon or the elders of the tribe, who will decide (arbitrate). The other is mediation. In the Arab tradition of sulha, for example,

 in order to prevent the vicious circle of a vengeful response, the family of the attacker should immediately consider going to a delegation of influential, notable people, asking them to mediate between the two parties. These people should be influential, trustworthy, and well known to all those living in the area (Jabbour, 1996: 27).

 In some countries, such as parts of Albania, blood feuds were embedded in a detailed tradition (the Kanun) and the struggle to replace it with mediation is still in progress in some parts of the country (Elezi, 2006).

 More recently it has come into prominence in resolving industrial disputes, for example through ACAS (Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service) in the United Kingdom and a wide range of others, through organizations such as IMCR (Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution, New York) (Wright 1996: ch. 4). It has been applied in the field of criminal justice, originally called victim-offender mediation, but now (especially in the anglophone world) restorative justice. Interest spread to other countries, including the United Kingdom (Wright 1977). It has been applied in different ways in the criminal justice system, including one-to-one mediation, conferencing (where others affected by the crime also take part), and circle sentencing, where the participants also recommend the sentence (but it has to be endorsed by the judge).

When people heard about this new practice and how it worked, some of them began to think how it could be applied in other settings, notably in schools. The basic concept of persons meeting face-to-face when they were in conflict, or one had harmed the other, was developed. McCold and Wachtel, for example, identify three main aspects of programmes, victim reparation, offender responsibility, and communities of care and reconciliation; if a programme has features from one of these categories it is ‘partly restorative’, from two, ‘mostly restorative’, and from all three ‘fully restorative’ (cited in Bazemore and Elis 2007: 401). Shapland and colleagues focused on several areas which make an event restorative, and the word ‘restorative’ itself is commonly used to include them. It has been suggested that a process can be described as more or less restorative, according to how many of these it includes. The list of Shapland et al. includes:

  1. Inclusiveness, participation and procedural justice: involving all those affected in the dialogue and decision-making. It has been found that people are often prepared to accept an outcome, even one that is unfavourable to them, if they feel that it has been reached by a fair process in which their point of view was heard.

  2. Dealing with emotion and the effects of the offence: focusing on, and expressing, the harm suffered and feelings of those affected, rather than measuring the offence against a scale of seriousness (such as maximum periods of imprisonment) or an amount of money. If apologies are offered, they are seen as an effort to make things better, not to reduce the amount of punishment.

  3. Problem-solving for the future: this often means agreeing how the parties will (or will not) relate to each other in future. It has been found that what many victims want is not reparation (in the form of money or work) but actions to make the offender less likely to re-offend, such as anger-management courses or acquiring employment skills, both to reduce the number of future victims but also for the offender’s own sake, so that he can make better use of his life. This is sometimes referred to as ‘human capital.’

  4. Building social capital and bringing in the community: ‘social capital’ is the network of family, neighbours, colleagues and so on which most of us depend; a restorative process increases social capital by bringing in more participants into the restorative process, but also by using trained volunteers as facilitators, and in some cases by using NGOs to provide the service (comments based on Shapland et al. 2011: ch. 7).

As these features can be used in civil situations, such as schools, the broader term ‘restorative practices’ is used to describe them. The International Institute for Restorative Practices, for example, has found that situations of conflict or harm can be addressed by asking both (or all) parties open-ended, non-judgemental questions such as

  • What happened?

  • What were your thoughts at the time, and since?

  • Who has been affected?

  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

This contrasts with the conventional questions: What law or rule was broken? Who was to blame? How should they be punished?

A new paradigm

It is not yet always understood that this is not merely one method among others of dealing with wrongdoers. It is a paradigm shift (a concept which should be understood in the country that produced Galileo!). The theory of relativity was a paradigm shift (although a recent experiment at CERN and Gran Sasso has raised some doubts about it!). Another is the realization in the past few decades that our survival depends on looking after this planet rather than exploiting it. Conventional justice, and indeed much social control, parenting, management and so on, are based on a behaviouristic paradigm, in which people are treated like donkeys, by the inducement of a carrot and the threat of a stick. Behave well and you will be rewarded, in this world or the next; break the rules and you will be punished. One problem is that both of these depend on what a person thinks will be the consequences for him or herself, rather than the effects of his actions on others; another is that the (dis)incentive won’t work if the person doesn’t think it will happen, or doesn’t even stop to think. A third is that it can lead to cruelty, or indeed deception. Cruelty to children is often justified in the name of ‘discipline.’ Think of the concept of ‘religion as the opium of the masses’, or the supposed belief of suicide bombers who become martyrs in the name of Jihad that they will be rewarded with sensual pleasures by 72 virgins in paradise. These can be called extrinsic consequences.

 The restorative paradigm, in contrast, relies mainly on intrinsic consequences. On the one hand, ‘virtue is its own reward’; on the other, the Hebrew prophet Micah says that rich people who hate good and love evil, rip off poor people, and use dishonest scales and false weights will find their ill-gotten gains not worth having: ‘You will eat and not be satisfied, your stomach will still be empty, … you will plant but not harvest’ (Micah 3:2-3, 6: 14-15). In other words, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ (Galatians 6: 7). The Buddhist concept of karma likewise suggests that the good or bad intentions behind actions will lead to good fortune or unhappiness.

 That does not mean that restorative justice allows people to sit back and wait for the consequences to happen. On the contrary, whereas punishment makes the offender passive: ‘If you cause harm to someone, we will cause harm to you’, restorative action requires the offender to be active: ‘If you cause harm, we expect you to put it right or make up for it.’ Punishment is based on fear, and makes people think of the consequences for themselves; restorative processes are based on encouraging people to feel empathy and think of the consequences for other people. What is more, this can also work both ways; not only does it bring home to the offender the pain he or she has caused to the victim, but it enables the victim to understand how the offender came to commit the offence, and in many cases to want the offender to have a better life than previously. As regards problem-solving, it is summed up by the image of two donkeys, roped together, who work out together how to reach two piles of hay.

 There are two main questions that need to be addressed: What can be done when restorative process cannot be used, for example if the victim refuses to take part or the offender is unco-operative? And, Are restorative practices being implemented correctly? We will return to these later, but first let us review the way in which restorative justice can be regarded as part of a continuum of restorative practices. Conflict can of course happen anywhere, but let us take four examples of the application of restorative practices: schools, decision making, conflict resolution, and restorative justice.

Restorative practices in schools

To introduce a new idea, schools are a logical place to start. The basic principles are very simple, as we have seen:

  • What happened?

  • What were your thoughts at the time, and since?

  • Who has been affected?

  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

 Quite young children can follow these, and also their own code of conduct: do not take sides, do not make suggestions, do not gossip about what people say in mediation. It has been found to work best if the whole school is run on restorative principles. Roxanne Claassen for example shows how at the beginning of each school year she asks the students to agree on expectations (of each other and also of her), with an eight-step procedure to be used if the ground rules are not followed. These range from a simple reminder, through a one-to-one discussion with another (restoratively trained) teacher, to a group conference with parents. Only after that does the student have to leave the school, and even this is done is a restorative way: not expulsion but finding a school more suited to the young person’s needs (Claassen 2008).

Decision making

There are also restorative methods of conducting discussions in order to reach decisions, for example by dividing into small groups so that everyone can contribute, and using a ‘talking stick’ which is passed round the circle of participants where only the person holding it can speak. Similarly, decisions do not have to be made by a majority vote in which extremes often win. A different method was proposed as long ago as 1770 by J-C de Borda: this determines the winner of an election by giving each candidate a certain number of points corresponding to the position in which he or she is ranked by each voter. Once all votes have been counted the candidate with the most points is the winner. Because it sometimes elects broadly acceptable candidates, rather than those preferred by the majority, the Borda count is often described as a consensus-based electoral process, using a matrix system, rather than a majoritarian one (, accessed 1.10.2011). There is reason to hope that decisions reached by such methods will reduce the likelihood of conflict later on.


Conflict resolution

When nevertheless conflicts inevitably occur, restorative methods of mediation and conflict resolution are available, and some of them are included in this course. They normally include the same restorative principles: the facilitator is neutral, and guides the discussion by asking the parties to agree to ground rules for the discussion and by summarizing statements in neutral language. Facilitators do not normally suggest solutions: these come from the participants themselves. The agreement may involve the way in which the parties will relate to each other, including how they will communicate; if harm has been caused, it will often propose a way of repairing the harm; but in many cases the dialogue itself is the reparation. Some practitioners and services specialize, for example in neighbourhood, family, workplace, or commercial mediation, and there are different techniques (the use of a ‘script’, a ‘conference’, ‘shuttle diplomacy’ and so on), but the basic principles are the same.

Restorative justice and its application

The processes described so far have all been in the realm of civil law. They are commonly described as restorative ‘practices’. Restorative justice, proprement dit, is used when a victim has suffered harm and the action has been classified as criminal. This is a two-stage process. The law states that actions of a certain type are criminal; but when a specific individual commits an action of that type, the victim may or may not decide to report it as a crime, or the police or prosecutor may decide not to treat it as a crime, for example because of insufficient evidence.

Let us remind ourselves of Shapland’s distinguishing features of restorative justice; and then compare them with selected European standards, and with legislation in selected countries. We will look at some critical issues for restorative justice, and finally, we will consider some guidelines to be borne in mind when introducing restorative justice.

 Distinguishing features of restorative justice

The principles proposed by Professor Shapland, it will be recalled, were:

  • Inclusiveness, participation and procedural justice;

  • Dealing with emotion and the effects of the offence;

  • Problem-solving for the future: ‘human capital’; and

  • Building social capital and bringing in community (Shapland et al. 2011: ch. 7)

Restorative justice and selected European standards

Looking first at Shapland et al.‘s principle of inclusiveness, participation and procedural justice, the Council of Europe (1999) has quite a lot to say about this (references are to the Appendix to Recommendation No. R(99)19). The parties should freely consent (#1) (but it does not mention the pressure placed on the accused when the alternative to a restorative process is prosecution. ‘Informed consent’ might be a better word.) Discussions are confidential (#2), apart from information about imminent serious crimes (#30), so that judges should not ask about the mediation process. Mediation should be available everywhere (#3), which a few countries have achieved, and at all stages of the criminal justice process (#4), which no country has yet attained.

The Recommendation has been amplified by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ 2007), although it is not clear how widely this document has been circulated. This is also concerned with procedural justice, for example recommending lawyers to provide information about restorative justice (CEPEJ #13). It proposes that member states should establish criteria for the accreditation of mediators, trainers and mediation services (#22), although those who favour maximum involvement of the community might prefer that function to be carried out by a well established NGO, and might question whether it is practicable to design a ‘certificate of European mediator’ that would meet everyone’s needs. There is a recommendation for a complaints procedure (#29), which the Council of Europe had not included.

 Shapland et al. rightly mention the importance of participation of those affected by the crime, and the Council of Europe states that agreements should be arrived at voluntarily by the parties (#31). This does not however stress that the agreement should be reached by the parties themselves: facilitators should not push them towards a particular form of reparation. It also does not explore what facilitators should do if they feel a proposed agreement to be unreasonable.

 An important aspect of the restorative process is dealing with emotion and the effects of the offence. The traditional criminal justice system is often criticized for failing to take account of this. The European standards do not have anything to say about it, and this is probably right: these are matters that belong in the training of mediators rather than in laws and guidelines. It is important to keep it in mind, however, precisely because it is one of the features that distinguish restorative justice. It helps to achieve the high rate of satisfaction of victims with the restorative process, and it also helps to motivate offenders to fulfil their agreements. It encourages the growth of empathy on both sides (although of course it doesn’t guarantee it). There is a tendency for laws and guidelines to emphasise the outcome : the apology, the compensation or community work. These are important if the victim attaches importance to them; but studies in England have found that many victims feel that the best reparation an offender can make is to stop offending, and hence to co-operate with any programme that will help him or her to do so. It will be interesting to know if victims in other countries feel the same way.

 A third feature of restorative justice is problem-solving for the future and building ‘human capital’ . This implies that the process should look beyond the actual restorative meeting. Human capital is a term used for the resources of character and skills possessed by an individual that enable him or her to cope with life. It is well known that offenders often lack many of these essential qualities. A bank robber may lack education, skills, or the ability to think through the consequences of his actions; a fraudulent banker may lack the empathy for his victims that would inhibit him from defrauding them of their savings1.

A restorative encounter enables them to meet people they have harmed, who are also likely to come from different sections of society who do not share their unscrupulous values. Again, there is no guarantee that they will begin to feel empathy, but it can happen. In South Africa, a woman who was a victim of an aggravated burglary met one of the burglars at Leeuwkop Prison, Johannesburg, and said afterwards that when she looked into his eyes for the first time she saw a sincere young man who deserved a second chance. He became a friend of her family and they conducted restorative workshops together (Sowetan, 14 July 2003). Another case is described by Braithwaite (2002: 22-24). Insurance companies in Australia were mis-selling worthless insurance policies to illiterate people in Aboriginal communities. Top managers agreed to visit them, and some of them went back to Canberra ashamed of what their company had done. The company voluntarily compensated 2,000 policyholders and set up an Aboriginal Consumer Education Fund.

 One offender probably spoke for many when he said ‘There were a number of times when I wanted to stop it and move one, but the urge … was too great and I gave myself permission each time [although] I did feel guilty afterwards (Hanvey et al. 2011: 100). Meeting the victim, or someone representing the victim, makes it harder for someone to ‘give himself permission.’

 Fourthly, building social capital and bringing in community. The Council of Europe barely touches on this. It has two aspects: the mediation service itself and the support services for the participants. The Recommendation says (twice) that mediation services should be given sufficient autonomy (#5, 20); it does not mention services run by independent NGOs, but this is implied when it says that there should be regular consultation between criminal justice authorities and mediation services (#33). It does say that mediators should be recruited from all sections of society (#22), which opens the door to the use of trained volunteers.

 The second aspect is the support services. There is an imprecise mention of the desirability of guidelines for the handling of cases following mediation (#7), and the training of mediators should include basic knowledge of the criminal justice system (#24), but more is needed. As Shapland et al. rightly say, ‘The state needs to provide the programmes or facilities which are encompassed within outcome agreements’ (2011: 76). Mediators need to know what services exist locally, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, anger management, and basic skills such as literacy; they should not raise false hopes by letting parties make an agreement for which the resources are not available. If they are needed, the mediation service should draw the attention of the state or relevant NGOs to the gap. There should be follow-up for victims, to make sure that they have no unresolved issues after the mediation. Offenders often need help in overcoming the stigma of conviction, although participating in the restorative process should in itself contribute to this.

 CEPEJ recommends recognition of social authorities, victims support organizations and other organizations which may offer mediation or restorative justice (#12). This also endorses community involvement, although it does not emphasise it.

 Recommendations of this kind need to be amplified by a code of practice. In England we have the Best practice guidance for restorative practice, issued by the Restorative Justice Council (2011). The relationship between the state and the NGO sector is illustrated by the fact that this code is produced by one NGO, endorsed by state agencies and other NGOs, and has a foreword by a minister in the Ministry of Justice. It includes a summary of the skills needed by facilitators and guidelines for conducting a restorative session. It recognises the overlap between civil and criminal situations by including a section on informal restorative practices, and ends with administrative guidance for organizations providing restorative services and their managers.

 A more recent statement, still in draft form, has been issued by the European Commission (2011): a proposal on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. This has been welcomed by the European Forum for Restorative Justice for the fact that restorative justice is included among the services needed by victims; in its present form it is however considered to place disproportionate emphasis on the need for safeguards, rather than on the benefits, and hence on the need for access to restorative justice for all victims of crime and the desirability of actively promoting it in all member states (Kearney, personal communication 20.9.2011).

Restorative justice in legislation

How are these principles reflected in the legislation of European countries? We have to consider firstly whether it is mandatory or permissive, or whether it says nothing at all. In England and Wales we have all three kinds. For young offenders in certain categories the court must order the case to be referred to a youth offending panel. For adults the court may order a ‘community sentence’ (similar to what used to be called ‘probation’) including certain ‘requirements’ for ‘specified activities’, and these may include ‘activities whose purpose is that of reparation, such as activities involving contact between offenders and persons affected by their offences’ (Criminal Justice Act 2003, sec. 201(2)). Thirdly, after a person has been sentenced, he or she, or the victim, may request a restorative meeting; this includes those sentenced to imprisonment. The effect of this is that for young offenders a system has been created so that the order of the court is carried out; however it is not fully restorative, because in many places little effort has been made to encourage victims to attend, and few of them do so. For adults, the probation service is required to contact victims before the release of a prisoner serving a sentence of 1 year or more for a violent offence, and this would provide a good opportunity for restorative contact; however, little use is made of this provision, because there are few probation officers or NGOs able and willing to facilitate restorative meetings. For sentenced offenders, even fewer restorative meetings take place, mostly on the initiative of local NGOs such as CALM (Confidential And Local Mediation) in west London. Because it is not part of the official system, each case has to be negotiated with the prison authorities. By degrees local protocols are being developed. In Belgium for a time (until 2008) restorative justice advisers were available in every prison (Van Doosselare and Vanfraechem 2010: 60).

 When Shapland et al. speak of inclusiveness and participation, they are referring primarily to including all those affected by the offence, especially family and friends of both the victim and the offender. This is achieved by ‘conferencing’, but not by one-to-one mediation. Taking it a step further, if restorative justice is only available in certain types of case, there is by definition no inclusiveness. In England and Wales there are the above-mentioned Youth Offender Panels, which include trained volunteers (thus ‘bringing in the community’); but they are only available for young offenders, appearing in court for the first time, and pleading guilty to offences that are not too serious; hence victims of adult offenders, repeat offenders and serious offenders are excluded. However, when a case fits the criteria, the case must be referred to the panel, so the number referred is high. Victims can be invited to take part, but not many do. Most legislation follows the traditional focus on offenders, not victims.

In Germany, for example, only misdemeanours can normally be diverted from prosecution ( Lenz et al. 2010:124)

 In Austria the name used, Out-of-court offence resolution (ATA: Aussergerichtlicher Tatausgleich) , emphasises the fact that the cases are criminal and that they are diverted out of court; but the mediators are all professionals. Offences up to a certain level of seriousness can be diverted; as in some other countries this level is defined by the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed: a relic of the traditional system which is based on punishment of the offender rather than the harm caused to the victim (Pelikan 2010).

 In Norway mediation can be provided in both civil and criminal conflicts; in criminal cases VOM can be applied with a suspended prison sentence, which implies more serious offences, and it is being increasingly used in cases involving violent offences (Hydle and Kemeny 2010: 207).

 Finland has also legislated for mediation in criminal and certain civil cases; it is administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, through a national advisory board. The Act provides for the funding of the service from government funds. Any type of crime can be dealt with; there are few exceptions, for example with certain vulnerable victims. In both Norway and Finland the mediators are trained volunteers (Iivari 2010).

 In Italy mediation services (mostly for juveniles) appear to have been established as a result of local initiatives, and some mediators are volunteers, so they can fulfil the community involvement criterion. For adult offenders,however, justices of the peace do not refer cases to mediation but try to conciliate the conflicting parties themselves; according to Mestitz (2010: 134-5) this is because they are paid on the basis of the number of cases they manage.

These examples show that there is no simple answer to the question, How much in restorative justice used in a particular country? It has to be answered on several dimensions. Is it available at all stages of the criminal justice process: diversion from the process, as (part of) the sentence, after the sentence, or for actions that are not necessarily classified as criminal (including some private complainant offences)? Up to what level of seriousness is it available pre-sentence or in-sentence, and for more serious offences can it be used post-sentence? Is it available nationwide? Does it meet the additional criteria, such as involvement of the community (including people from ethnic minorities) and availability of post-mediation support services? Each country answers these questions in different ways.

Critical issues for restorative justice

Advocates of restorative justice have to remind themselves (if they are not reminded by others) that it does not have all the answers. To take two examples, referred to earlier, What can be done when restorative process cannot be used, for example if the victim refuses to take part or the offender is unco-operative? And, Are restorative practices being implemented correctly?

When a fully restorative process is not possible

The first and crucial point is that restorative justice can only be used when the accused admits at least some involvement. If he claims that he is a victim of mistaken identity, he is not the person with whom the victim should have a dialogue. If he admits involvement but minimizes it, excuses it or shows no remorse, the victim should be consulted: if they would nevertheless like to give the offender ‘a piece of their mind’, regardless of the offender’s attitude, this should be considered; but if they would find this attitude hurtful or provoking, a meeting would not be helpful.

In that case, or if the offender refuses to meet the victim, or fails to keep their agreement, clearly it is not acceptable to say, in effect, ‘We will offer restorative justice, but if the offender cannot or will not take part, we will do nothing’. Conversely, if the victim cannot or will not take part, it is unfair to impose a punitive sanction on an offender who is willing to makes amends. In these case the offender must face ‘consequences’ of some kind, but they should be restorative ones, for example undergoing a victim awareness course or doing work for the community. It should be work whose value is obvious. If possible the offender should meet the beneficiaries of the work, or work alongside volunteers at a shared task, and should receive thanks. This helps the goal of reintegration. It may be physically demanding or even unpleasant work, but the essential factor is that it is not imposed for that reason. And as with all restorative justice work, there is often the pain of being reminded of the harm he has caused. Not all will experience remorse, of course; but not all are deterred by punishments, however harsh, as the prison reconviction rates show.

Is restorative justice implemented correctly?

To put the question in this way is misleading, because it implies that there is a ‘right’ way. It would be better to ask whether it is carried out in the spirit of restorative justice. Mediators obviously need to be trained, and there is some evidence that those previously trained in criminal justice need to pay special attention to restorative principles such as condemning the offence but not rejecting the offender, and not using the mediation meeting to gather information for prosecution purposes. A system of accrediting those who have successfully completed training is needed; it should be such that volunteers as well as professionals can become mediators. This implies compiling standards, such as the above-quoted Best practice guidance for restorative practice of the Restorative Justice Council (2011).

The need for support services has already been mentioned. They should also be available in cases where restorative justice is not possible or appropriate. For victims, there is Victim Support (which may include subsidiary organizations for victims of specific crimes, such as homicide, causing death with a motor vehicle, rape, and others). For offenders there are many organizations, in the United Kingdom at least; one which operates in a restorative way, although not involving victims, is Circles of Support and Accountability. These are (so far) specifically for sex offenders on release from prison. Because of the stigma attached to the crime such a man is especially likely to face difficulties such as loneliness and unemployment; the circle is a group of trained volunteers who meet with him at frequent intervals to help and support him, but on the understanding that if he shows signs of reverting to his previous behaviour, the police will be informed and he may be recalled to prison (Hanvey et al. (2011).

There are other requirements to comply with other aspects of the restorative ideal. For example, mediators should be recruited from all sections of the community, including ethnic minorities. There should be an annual report, demonstrating accountability to the local community.

Finally, one criticism of restorative justice has been that, like criminal justice, it assumes that a crime is an isolated event, committed by an offender, who is called upon to make things right. But this is only part of the story. If facilitators of restorative meetings see a pattern of factors linked to crime, such as a high number of offenders coming from a particular schools or district, they should draw this to the attention of the authorities responsible for crime reduction and social policy generally. Some of these factors are already well known, such as unemployment, but this could put extra pressure on the authorities to take the necessary action.


To sum up: what is this new paradigm, or new incarnation of an old human institution? We started with restorative justice, which is a rather special application because it is concerned with wrongdoing and therefore frequently involves the criminal justice system. It may be used at different stages of the process. Countries implement restorative justice to different degrees, and the law sometimes falls short of restorative ideals, for example by focusing on offenders rather than on victims, and in some cases limiting restorative meetings to juvenile offenders and their victims. There are few countries where restorative justice is available nationwide, even to a limited extent. The public, and the media, do not always understand the idea clearly; for example, ordering an offender to do a menial job, intended to be punitive, without an attempt at victim-offender dialogue, is sometimes wrongly described as ‘restorative justice’. Here is the first part of the paradigm shift, away from retribution for its own sake to problem-solving and reintegrating wrongdoers into the community. It does not begin by asking how they should be punished, but how they can make better use of their lives in future. The model for doing this is not behaviourism, but an approach which encourages empathy and understanding, and hence behaviour which is motivated by those relationships. However, restorative justice needs the courts for those cases it cannot handle for various reasons; it is hoped that it will influence the courts to adopt a more restorative outlook.

These ideas were based on enabling people to resolve conflicts themselves, rather than having a decision imposed on them, and on encouraging empathy rather than rules as the basis for doing so. They were noticed in other spheres of life, notably schools. Children can be shown how to make their own rules, and have shown that they can do so in a very sensible way. They can also understand the basic principles of resolving problems in a respectful way, being non-judgemental, and condemning the wrongdoing, not the wrongdoer.

The same principles are also being taken out into the wider community. In the city of Hull, in north-east England, everyone who works with children is being trained in restorative methods. The aim is to move towards harmony by creating a ‘restorative city’. Disputes between neighbours can be resolved with the help of mediators, and likewise conflicts between family members, or workmates. People who were regarded as a problem become part of the solution to the problem. As Thomas Kuhn (1962) has shown, revolutions in thinking do not happen overnight. But we are in the middle of one paradigm shift, learning to live in harmony with the planet; now we can be part of another, learning to live in harmony with each other.


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1 In the UK, for example, Barclays Bank mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) and has had to pay £60 million to compensate customers, plus a fine of £7.7 million (Daily Telegraph 5 October 2011).