Restorative justice, just the name of this approach to conflict resolution brings notes of spring summer and healing in the mind. We often don’t feel satisfied or like the justice that has been served in the dealings of the court, police and legal system at large. Like there is missing variables, a disconnect. We have repeat offenses and victims which still have troubled souls after the verdict. The benefits of restorative justice when used in conflict resolution will be the topic of this piece.
So what is restorative justice? From my reading it is a system of justice in which all parties affected, the victim and perpetrator collaterally influenced parties dialog and come to a just conclusion. From the convenient resource RestorativeJustice.org I got this piece of enlightening context, “Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing.”
The community as we learn from social psych and behavioral science in general is more than just laws, legality, illegality and rigid structure. You have the nuances of local culture, emotional context, and family dynamics. A serious crime can change the whole vibe and temperature of a community, so dealing with the situation as “wholistically” as possible is desirable. So in this restorative mode of operation it is considered best for all significantly affected parties to meet and discuss the consequences, punishment and solutions. Though not always accepted, with the open free participation of all parties, when there is cooperation there can be unexpected transformation!
From the Victim Support website I learned that many victims feel more at peace after engaging in restorative justice approach, helping them to move forward in life after bad experiences. Of course all parties must agree, a trained facilitator needs to determine the situations safety and proper circumstances in which to move forward with the conference as it is often called. “Restorative justice gives you, the victim, a chance to ask the offender questions and have your say, or tell them how their criminal behaviour has affected you.” This opportunity to air out how you were affected and really express your hurt to the source of your misfortune, I would think, is more emotionally helpful to both sides than other methods. It brings a personal human element so that if there is any humanity present and if we hopefully aren’t dealing with a psychopath or sociopath, there can be sincere willing compensation by the perpetrator. Another good point for the victim is stated, “All communication between the victim and offender is carefully mediated by an RJ facilitator who will make sure the process is safe and in your interests as the victim.” If it isn’t safe it won’t be face to face.
One of the important aims through discussion is to get the criminal or perpetrator to see their wrong, understand how their actions affected the community negatively and take responsibility. From lesson 6 on the same site we get some benefits of this practice to the criminal. “It substantially reduces repeat offending for some offenders, although not all, It reduces repeat offending more than prison for adults and at least as well as prison for youths…” So this radically different approach seems to resonate with better long term behavior modification. This human personal communicatory angle also causes the victim to be less likely to seek violent or unlawful revenge. Empathy and helping both sides see as close to the whole picture as possible seems to be an important objective of this approach. Reaching past stereotypes, labels and trigger fast rectionary judgement to see the situation for what it really is. The legal element is only the tip of the iceberg.
Restorative Justice can be described through normative values, which describe the world as we posit it should be, then operational values, which direct how we accomplish the first. What are our normative values what do we strive for. Well most cultures especially in the western context strive for social peace, with freedom of movement and expression. Peace is more than the lack of corrosive conflict, we want harmony, communality and security. Like a living system we want the community when disrupted by discord, also the social disease of harming others selfishly, to bring back balance and cooperation in the community, healing. Total resolution in a protective setting is desired. Lets talk about the normative value respect,
“All people are treated as worthy of consideration, recognition, care and attention simply because they are people. The operational values that encourage respect are inclusion and empowerment. The parties are invited to directly shape and engage in restorative processes and are equipped to effectively influence and participate in the response to the offence.”
All sides deserve the gift of basic respect to say a word even if they are guilty criminals. Sometimes fully realising the situation gives context to the punishment and even helps both parties see a bigger picture. Solidarity comes from the open discussion and community involvement. It could even come about that a community can be more loving, connected and have a stronger bond after assessing a serious issue and eliminating the cancerous variables. Collaboration and making amends are powerful normative values that lead to active responsibility. What is desired is a change to want the community to do it’s best from the internal motivation.
In closing Restorative Justice is a topic that I have thought about in many contexts but only now has been framed in official vernacular. It is good for both victims, defendants and the surrounding families and community. This is due to the value based approach. With more than legal variable taken into affect the parties are more satisfied over all. I hope to see this form of justice make its way to more legal and disciplinary systems. A healthy community is an extended family and should resolves problems as such!