This essay will focus on the various advantages and disadvantages of using restorative justice principles to handle cases of low-level offenses. The principles, processes, methods, and challenges of restorative justice will be discussed and evaluated as well.
In the 1970s, restorative justice was first practiced as a form of intervention or settlement among offenders and their victims. Restorative justice has several definitions, alongside dissimilar opinions about which practices are suitably linked to the movement. Besides that, the meaning of the developing system progresses, as new discoveries are made day by day. The term ‘restorative’ is defined by Collins Dictionary as “something that gives you strength after feeling despondent”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘justice’ gives the meaning of “being ethically fair” and “the system of laws by for people to be judged”. American criminologist Howard Zehr (2002) states that restorative justice is a form of movement that is a substitute of criminal justice. This informal justice method is a whole process of a meeting or more than one meeting, with all the stake parties involved in a crime, mutually settling the dealings of the outcome of the crime carried out, and its imminent inferences. According to Daly (2016), restorative justice is used in non-criminal justice complications, more commonly in schools, allied to child protection, and others.
Low-level offenses are also known as minor offenses. This includes vandalism, student-on-student fights in schools, verbal abuse, other forms of bullying in schools, minor assaults, disturbing the peace, drug possession, petty theft, and traffic violation such as speeding, and driving under the influence (DUI). Although, the classification of level of offense can vary in extent and in different countries, even states. More commonly, these low-level offenses are carried out by students who are still in school. Conventionally, minor offences that were committed by younger offenders are dealt with alongside restorative justice. For instance, the youth justice holds the conferences together with the aim of restoring, in the United Kingdom.
One of the biggest challenges in restorative justice is when it comes to subjects of different groups of minorities, ages, and genders. Unfortunately, all these diverse categories are still complications that are considered to be obstinate today. As an instance, the existing racial bias in restorative justice can adversely affect the whole purpose of holding a meeting in the first place. Justice in the modern world requires equal treatment for all. As Hudson (2006) states, the affairs between criminal offenses and broader inequalities in society, and different forms of oppression has to be improved, as there is an inarguably lack of attention in the said relationships. On the other hand, there is now a major feminist engagement in the restorative justice system. According to Wormer (2009), the movement is a victim-centred approach, expressly linking to the marginalized populace, including women.
There are several fundamental processes in order to carry out a restorative justice meeting. To start off the system of restoring justice, there needs to be the means of how it will be conducted. Cited by Wachtel (2013), the variety includes affective statements, affective questions, small impromptu groups, large groups, and formal conferences. Affective statements and questions are more informal, while large groups and formal conferences are more formal. Other than that, when it comes to women’s victimization, methods of holding community reparations, community mediations, sentencing circles, healing circles, and victim-offender conferences, are commonly used. According to Zehr (2002), guiding questions are a very important focus. Questions asked should be on the lines of “Who has been hurt or affected by what you did?”, “What are their needs?”, and “What do you think you need to do to make things right?”.
There are different sorts of principles and practices of restorative justice. The vast majority of crime survivors’ pain goes unhealed. So, the most targeted principle of the system is that justice ought to heal as well as settle everyone and anyone who were impacted by an offence carried out, including the victims, offenders, and communities. In fact, the principles of restorative justice in or out of school are quite similar. For instance, the offender has to take responsibility and accountability for his own actions and the harm it has caused on others. Reyenke (2011) states that one of the most vital values is that the needs of both the offender and victim, plus the community as a whole, have to be addressed, acknowledged, and met. Without a doubt, once someone commits a crime against an individual, there is no extent of compensation that could undo the hurt and damages that has ensued. Nonetheless, the system of restorative justice stresses on accountability and making amends, thus urges wrongdoers to take responsibility for all the mischiefs caused. Van Ness and Strong (2010) state that amends can be made by the offender via apologizing to start off, improving their behaviours, compensating, and being generous and kind. Rather than putting vengeance on the line, restorative justice focuses on establishing the assets of perseverance. The system is concerned about needs and roles, and not punishments.
With all forms of the justice system, restorative justice has its own advantages and effectiveness. To begin with, it benefits not just the victim and offender, but the community, too. First and foremost, restorative justice leads to victim satisfaction. Based on Daly (2016), all who are at stake in the meeting have their own opportunity to be heard and understood. As an example, the act of verbal abuse may have a way greater and harsher impact than it seems. By addressing and redressing the wrongs, asking and answering questions, and mutually acknowledging needs, both the victim and offender are expressing themselves, and will definitely avoid turning the case into a cessation.
By confronting the offender, the victims will feel more empowered and can slowly start the healing and restoring process. Cited by Wilson, et al. (2017), victims who express themselves emphasizes on their own process of recovery. They should voice their story, and the impacts of the situation. By doing so, the victims’ desire to hold vengeance against the wrongdoers will be reduced (Van Ness & Strong, 2010). To describe, minor assaults would commonly lead the victims to a state of vulnerability. To end that quality, the victims should not feel weak and helpless, instead, feel stronger and claim their justices.
Following, the offender is given the opportunity to apologize, and show genuine remorse of the wrongdoings committed. Victims can feel the remorse of the offender; thus, are willing to absolve them for the crime they have committed. Van Ness & Strong (1997) state that once the offenders are forgiven, it will be considered how they could compensate, vis-à-vis non-discriminatory treatments and other rehabilitation means. For instance, illegally vandalising someone’s property would irritate and burden the owner. If a youngster vandalizes, and does not have the money to repair the damage, he could start by sincerely apologizing for the cause.
Restorative justice contributes to the reduction of crime rates. Regardless of high or low offenses, evidence shows that the system prevented the acts of reoffending (McAlinden, 2008). A significant evidence is of the evaluation made in West Yorkshire by the Home Office. There is a minor but methodically imperative drop in the rates of reoffending found in the assessment of restorative justice schemes (Vennard & Hedderman, 1998). Irrespective of the level of offense committed, it could potentially, work with the proper and suitable process.
On the contrary, there are drawbacks and challenges in the still-evolving restorative justice system. One of the main concerns is that the whole restoration process might be seen as a means that is ‘too light’. When restorative justice is explained for the first time to an individual, it may seem very casual and not at all like a legitimized law. Instead, it is a form of informal justice (Muncie & Wilson, 2004). Undoubtedly, the initial responses from victims and the community after a crime is committed, would be to punish the offender. So, when the form of restoration is mentioned, it can be perceived as wrongdoers dodging incarceration by merely apologizing. Some offenders may play pretend and act remorseful in front of all stakes in the meeting, to convince that the harm they have done has been resolved. In other words, as Daly (2016) states, the system could be manipulated by the offenders. For example, when an individual violates the traffic rules by speeding or driving under the influence (DUI). Here, they may be forgiven, but their act could have led to worse problems such as car crashes. In this case, there should be more stern treatment towards the offenders.
The next disadvantage is in the perspective of the victims. Victims may be overwhelmed with different emotions and feelings towards the confrontation of the offender. Before the agreement of meeting to take place, victims may not be ready to confront the situation. To explicate, they may feel anger, fear, distress, anxiety, vulnerability, and in need of sense of security, or even pressured (Morris & Maxwell, 2001). As mentioned previously, victims should never feel powerless. So, they should feel secured and ready, before a meeting is planned and agreed-to.
Furthermore, the fear of revictimization, also known as secondary victimization. Without a doubt, the community norms that are involved should never blame the victim. Take bullying in schools as an example. If the bully does not have actual remorse towards the victim, he could continue un-tolerated behaviours toward other students in future days. This drawback is not limited to minor offenses. For major offenses, it will inevitably lead to a worse scenario, as the revictimization could trigger more wicked crimes to be committed by the same offender, possibly increasing the number of victims and increasing the degree of harm to be made in the community.
Lastly, the duties of the ones involved in the meeting of restorative justice. This may include the mediator, and stake individuals. If the organizers were trained improperly, it could lead to poorer disputes. They have the most important duty, as they ought to make the victim and offender feel calmer and more contented. Questions should be asked and answered equally and mutually. There should be no bias in the consultation.
All in all, restorative justice system is in short, a meeting where parties involved could potentially find healing. Restorative justice practices work with a broad range of crimes. In this essay, low-level crimes were discussed. It can come in various powerful forms such as sentencing and healing circles, small or large groups, and formal and informal conferences.
I believe that there will always be pros and cons no matter what, because it is still an evolving system today. As listed, discussed and evaluated, this form of informal justice has many different good and bad aspects respectively. Restorative justice could satisfy victims, or overwhelm them with different emotions before, during, or after the confrontation with the offender. Moreover, the system can either make them feel more empowered, or make victims in-risk of revictimization. While it could give second chances to offenders, it could also be seen as a light-handling treatment to the community. Last but not least, restorative justice has been proven to reduce reoffending rates. Nonetheless, it cannot be achieved with poor facilitators in the conference. To quote Zehr (2002), “restorative justice concentrates on needs, before declaring sentences.”.