Restorative Justice

Should I say I am in favour of Restorative Justice? Oceans of complexity stretch far beyond the horizon. Perhaps better to say I like the idea. From the book Restorative Justice and Civil Society, ed. Heather Strang and John Braithwaite, and a paper by Prof. Kathleen Daly of Griffith University, Brisbane, available as a pdf.

RJ is a kind of process- decision making by interested parties- and also the values underlying it. There is debate on what those values are: healing, caring and love come high. RJ seeks to transform the offender, who should acknowledge the wrongness of the offence.

A crime can afford an opportunity not only to repair harm and prevent recurrence, but tackle underlying problems. Principles of RJ practice include, foster awareness, avoid scolding or lecturing, involve offenders actively, accept ambiguity, separate the deed from the doer, see every instance of conflict as an opportunity for learning and grace.

Some problems with restorative justice:

“Non-dominated speech” is a value of RJ, according to the book. Unfortunately it does not define the phrase, and googling reveals only one result which does not refer back to that book. What it means is anyone’s guess.

Is “Restorative justice” opposed to retribution, or can it include it? I had been familiar with retribution as a justification for punishment- the term may also mean punishment which is harsh or painful. An offender may view reparation as punishment, because it is an imposition; the intent of the one imposing it may be less important than that perception. RJ advocates reject the attitude of hostility towards the offender, but justice has been moving towards rehabilitation over the last century.

What of restorative justice where the offender believes an assault to be legitimate retaliation? What if a man says a woman is “asking for it”? RJ then requires effort to correct that view, and its success might be measured according to whether the offender feels shame.

A chapter on Quaker principles says Quakers favour reintegrative shaming rather than stigmatic shaming: rather than the Scarlet Letter, shame can allow offenders to repair the harm they have caused and proudly return to the community. However our concept of the inner light and inner-directedness can make the worst offenders feel self-justified. As a Quaker, I would say the discipline of testing leadings in community should protect us from that, but that might not apply when the faith departs but some ways of seeing the world remain in the culture.

Is RJ something that happens after an offender has served a sentence? Should the victim forgive, and what does forgiveness mean? What is its purpose- to heal the victim, or restore a relationship?

Integrating understandings- not retributive or restorative, but both- may have value.

I step back from the ocean, feeling slightly dizzy.

El Greco, the resurrection

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