Modern conflict resolution in criminal practice is increasingly turning to the use of restorative justice. Such practice helps to balance between justice system’s goals of punishment, rehabilitation, and community safety. According to US national statistics, 32 states adopted legislation confirming the possibility of using restorative justice (Pavelka, 2016). Although there are some limitations related to victimization, restorative justice provides a promising alternative to regular retributive justice.
Restorative Justice: Theory, Strengths, and Limitations
Restorative Justice Theory
Restorative justice practices help to view crimes and illegal actions with a different lens. In basic terms, restorative justice happens when the victim and offender organize a meeting and seek compromises and common solutions on how the offender should repair the harm. In pure theoretical settings, restorative justice theory offers a more humane, positive, and preferable option than traditional models. In fact, restorative justice can trigger innovations and reforms in the whole criminal system by promoting sensitivity to an individual’s sufferings and feelings (Pavelka, 2016). For instance, state courts can move from the view that crime happens against the state to an approach that emphasizes the crime as a violation of connections between individuals. However, problems related to revictimization may cause some difficulties in the proceedings.
A victim of a crime can have sharply negative feelings when in contact with the offender or former abuser. Nevertheless, restorative justice theory proposes safer ways of contact with offenders through indirect ways of communication and also with the involvement of third parties (community representatives) (Bromwich & Harrison, 2019).
Involvement of Victim in the Process
The main peculiarity of restorative justice is the active participation of victims in case solutions. The most common way to use restorative justice in US criminal justice is the victim-offender mediation approach (Bromwich & Harrison, 2019). In a typical form, this process involves the meeting of offender and victim with the help of a trained mediator, who helps both sides to find an agreement after they deliver their positions to each other (Bromwich & Harrison, 2019).
However, both the level of involvement and the victim’s rights are defined specifically in every case when the nature of the crime, the victim’s age, and the psychological state of the parties are assessed. Nevertheless, the fundamental rule is the equality of both sides in the process. The decision to use restorative justice depends on consent: “victim and offender are contacted separately, and asked if they are interested in joining the mediation program” (Bromwich & Harrison, 2019, p. 121). Thus, the theory of restorative justice presupposes that when victims agree to participate, they have the same rights in discussion as offenders.
Issue of Victimization
Victimization refers to the process of being victimized by the offender. Although participation in restorative justice meetings can help find a more appropriate way to solve disagreements, it is often hard to be a participant in the investigation. Some victims tend not to get involved in legal proceedings and wait for a court decision. Legal systems try to solve that problem by introducing reconciliation programs (Bromwich & Harrison, 2019).
For instance, the Canadian House of Commons created a report which tries to “provide substantial support to victims through effective victim services” (Bromwich & Harrison, 2019, p. 125). Besides, the alternative types of restorative justice practice include family group conferences, sentencing circles, and restorative conferences. That types provide solutions to issues related to the impossibility of arranging victim-offender mediation.
Restorative justice breaks with the traditional understanding of justice as an implementation of punitive actions. It offers a sincere and structured meeting of persons involved. Such practice can be a more effective way to respond to crimes because it can cause more positive outcomes than traditional sentencing. One of the concerns is the negative attitude of victims toward involvement in litigation. Modern restorative justice theory suggests new ways of meeting with the indirect participation of the victim.
Bromwich, R. J., & Harrison, T. (2019). Negotiation and conflict resolution in criminal practice: A handbook. Canadian Scholars.
Pavelka, S. (2016). Restorative justice in the states: An analysis of statutory legislation and policy. Justice Policy Journal, 2(13), 1-23.