For my first blog, here is a vision of a restorative society, including not only conflict resolution, but a culture in which relationships would be based on respect, dialogue, and if possible consensus:
(a) decision making
(b) conflict resolution
(c) repair of harm
(d) repair of criminal harm
(a ) could be community education, mediation training, showing people restorative ways of reaching a decision with the maximum consensus, and hopefully serving to avoid some conflicts getting more serious or even leading to a criminal act. It could include Non-Violent Communication (Rosenberg, 1999). Some preventive work could belong here.
(b ) is what local groups such as Lambeth Mediation, CALM, Sheffield Mediation and other local organizations in the UK do already, including (and extending) work in schools, workplaces, etc. The aim would include working towards encouraging all schools in an area to adopt restorative principles. This could be (in some cases already is) a source of funding, e.g. from housing associations, schools (pupil premiums), employers (including local authorities), etc.
(c ) takes this a step further, where the conflict has resulted in actual harm. Often this means that it could be treated as a crime, but the aim would be to deal with it outside the system if possible, provided of course that the outcome was fair to all, and in the interests of the community.
(d ) would only apply as a last resort, when the incident has to be passed to the criminal justice system, but even then restorative measures should be used whenever possible. Listed above are possible ways of delivering RJ in a criminal justice context (police, probation, free-lances, commercial sector – and local Third Sector organizations, supported and supervised by a national ‘umbrella’), as the preferred option).
Three out of four strands are in the community; only the fourth brings in the criminal justice system. My fear is that because the restorative justice movement has been so successful, there have been pressures the other way: anti-social behaviour and other conflicts, especially between people who know each other, are being sucked into the criminal justice system, with more serious consequences for the individuals (punishment, criminal record, ‘victim’ not heard, conflict not resolved, etc), more expense, less use of community resources and volunteers). We might also look at what some other countries are doing. This is from a recent conference paper,’ Restorative justice: who will make it happen?’ ( presented to conference on ‘Locating restorative justice within criminal justice: challenges in theory and practice,’ Durham University Law School, Centre for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, 2-3 May 2013.)