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Victimology and Restorative Justice

Within this essay, l shall critically assess the extent to which the restorative justice programme called Circles of Support and Accountability provides a more just resolution of a dispute than that provided by traditional justice processes. The traditional UK Criminal Justice System focuses on dealing with crime extremely punitively, and usually, imprisonment seems to be served. According to Davies (2005), the aim in sentencing must seek to serve retribution punishing someone for their criminal behaviour); therefore, the right balance must be found between the seriousness of the offence and the severity of the sanction. As this may be one retributive process Zehr, (1990) suggests that restorative justice offers a variety of processes that can be adapted to every offence, thus, including; mediation, family group conferences, restorative cautioning, peace circles, community hearings, youth offender panels and truth and reconciliation commissions whereby, takes victims seriously.

Restorative Justice defines crime as a violation of relationships and suggests instead of responding to crime with punishment; we should seek justice by repairing harm that is caused by the crime (Bazemore and Walgrave, 1999), using an ‘inclusive, empowering and holistic’ response (Braithwaite, 2002). As traditional retributive systems could be argued to focus solely on the ‘offender’ and are critiqued as an ‘offender centred justice’ (Wright, 2010), suggests that the person who is not acknowledged at all but forgotten is forgotten the ‘victim’.

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This essay will aim to assess the extent to which Restorative Justice provides a more just resolution of a dispute than that provided by traditional justice processes. Many societies have run themselves based on restoration and healing for centuries. The idea is underpinned by a huge faith basis and reinforces the Christian sense of forgiveness and healing (Digan, 2005). Moreover, within the 1990s, restorative justice began to involve the victims and offenders’ family members, relatives, and friends to consider the importance of community involvement (Braithwaite, 1989) and provide opportunities for material and symbolic reparation (Magurie, 2007).

This being so, they have the potential, at least, to restore victims and to reintegrate offenders (Treadwell, 2006). Whereby, restorative justice programmes have been introduced in various communities across the UK, Canada and North America, such as the community of Hollow Water, Canada (Bushie, 1999); Ross was used in relocating individuals into the community and tried to resolve problems of alcohol and drug abuse and unemployment. However, such a healing circle revealed high levels of systemic child abuse, but issues were overcome by talking through problems that showed high levels of success. It may be argued, such restorative justice approaches provide a much more ‘natural’ form of justice than the traditional justice system, as the existing traditional system fails to identify victims feelings.

Hence, victims are let down, feeling they have not had their say and have never understood why the crime took place, and their particular needs and concerns have not been addressed at all (Braithwaite, 1989). As in the sentencing process, it is widely believed, lawyers steal the conflict from those intimately involved, and in an adversarial system, the state steals the words of the victims (Christ, 1977). This, meaning the state speaks on behalf of victims who are not given a ‘voice’. Therefore, the state takes away the victims ‘voice’ disregarding the interests of the victims and community. The restorative justice approach may suggest considering the true impacts of crime on victims, in regards to; paying back in retrospect of offenders and their communities, forgives and moving forward, making restorative justice in the most part a ‘peacemaking approach’ (ref).

This approach is an important process (Hill, 2010). It may be considered that the way society considers these impacts dictates how society operates its criminal justice system within the UK and other countries such as Canada. Indeed, advocates of restorative justice claim restorative justice should be non-punitive; however, Ashworth (1986) argues it is an alternative form of punishment as any form of coercion is punitive as (Hoyle and Young, 2003) believe that the aim of restorative justice has the potential, at least, to restore victims and to reintegrate offenders. One particular strength within Restorative Justice is Peacemaking circles. It is widely believed that the aim is not to add harm upon harm but to try to undo the harm and address the harm as to ‘heal’, to ‘heal’ what has been injured (ref).

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For example, communities have been injured, victims have been injured, and the offender has been injured in many cases. Therefore, the harm caused initiates the concept to move forward proactively to prevent harm from happening in the future. Peacemaking circles aim to gain an understanding of the needs of victims and community, whilst also taking account of the needs and obligations of the offender(s) (notes ref), whereby such traditional groups within other countries suggest that restorative justice-based methods are used as ‘conflict resolution methods (Perry, 2002) as Gray and Lauderdale (2007) argue other traditional methods are used in civil sanctions to address crime, as the goal of such indigenous justice is to promote peace, heal the network of relationships, and eradicate political and emotional injustices.

In assessing the appropriateness of restorative justice, it is necessary to recognize that dealing with high-risk sex offenders is one of the ‘hard cases’ to approach, Hudson, (2007). However, it was supported by the peace-making circle, The Circles of Support and Accountability model (COSA). According to Wilson (2007), the Canadian society was not relatively concerned with some of the media’s everyday features regarding subjects; sports, culture and other entertaining icons but much more interested in the more popular discourse were relating to sex offenders being present and those that had been released into local communities. Significance within the traditional system when dealing with high-risk sex offenders in addressing different methods of public safety is an important point; Since it challenges the ideological view that ‘get tough’ approaches can be justified because it demonstrates the willingness of the state to take the needs of victims seriously (ref).

Arguably, Miers (1978) theorises that restorative justice should encourage attitudinal and behavioural change in victims and offenders, which will benefit them directly, and the community indirectly. However, this may not always be possible as communities can be oppressive, intolerant and coercive (Dignan, 2005). A dissatisfaction that has been made apparent within restorative justice is that it could be seen as ineffective as reoccurrences among sex offenders are likely and could amplify recidivism rates. According to Wilson (2007), sex offender community-based projects may work and could further decrease recidivism in identifying those at risk to sexually re-offend. However, Maguire (2002) argues such attitudes that support sex offending projects are surprisingly poor predictors in assessing the risk of re-offending in all individuals.

However, Hanson and Morton-Bourgon (2004) suggest that attitudes expressed within relationships of trust (e.g. attendance of such programmes) are more reliable risk indicators than those expressed in adversarial contexts. Thus, while restorative justice may aim to be a ‘just’ response in deterring other offenders (within attitudes and behaviours), the development of this approach should not be used to influence recidivism rates. However, the process should provide offenders with a better understanding of the impact of their offending on their victim Walker, (1991), consequently making them take responsibility for their actions. A benefit of peacemaking circles is that the situation is understood from both sides. For instance, in the case of sensitising the offender to understanding the extent and the harm that has been caused to the victim, thus encouraging the offender to take responsibility as restorative justice makes those realise the consequences of their actions.

However, in circumstances where the circle of support is only males, this may help the offender justify his offending behaviour rather than challenging it (Walklate, 2007). Furthermore, a patriarchal circle may perpetuate the situation by justifying the offence through victim-blaming, thus failing to change the offender’s attitudes. Therefore, advocates of restorative justice theorise four main principles; responsibilisation, reparation, reintegration and restoration. Therefore, the COSA project appears to focus considerable attention on reintegration and pays less attention to the other areas of the restorative model. Moreover, the article addresses the ‘best practice’ approach, which involves collaboration between respective operational, professional and jurisdictional initiatives and was needed to encourage both communication and community safety; as such, initiatives must seek to involve the community in the process.

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What is significant within the COSA project is that of volunteer recruitment that is entirely reliant on volunteers from local communities and other stakeholders such as professional agencies, psychologists, physicians, and probation. As far as Wilson (2005) is concerned, such motives and capabilities of potential volunteers are appropriate in providing support and accountability for high-risk sex offenders in the community works well in promoting particular victim’s interests continue to proliferate (Maguire, 2007). However, such programmes are not without their difficulties. Etzioni (1995) explains that ‘Communitarianism’ would be strengthening in reinforcing communities and that the sensualisation and dominance of the state have been the problem. Hence, the focus is to get issues into local communities so that communities can become active and citizenship would be produced.

Where what works well in some restorative programmes may not work well within other programmes. What is controversial, due to the people who volunteer to take part in restorative justice programmes more generally, are members of the community that are often those that have been living in the community and have been likely to hold certain prejudices against certain groups of people, just because its restorative, does not mean we don’t have to make sure that such power imbalances are not addressed. Academic commentators have debated whether or not restorative justice should be available to all. Walgrave (2008) suggests a twin-track system creates a ‘national park’ for good people and peacemakers’. There is also the concern that restoration may not be appropriate for all crimes. However, it is probably more correct to take the stance that restorative justice can be adapted to every crime, but not necessarily at the same point of intervention for every offender.

Moreover, restorative justice does not treat people consistently, except in terms of process, and the punishment is not proportionate to the severity of the crime (Sliverman, 2002). Braithwaite (2001) argues restorative justice could worsen social justice due to proportionality; for example, there are more victims than offenders. Finally, this could suggest that those ‘victims campaigns’ was very much underpinned by particular ‘hidden crimes’ and to actually at least get a symbolic response for those who worked very hard in campaigning, for the law to take the crime much more seriously, especially, within the care and protection for young children to be taken much more seriously. This gave much more emphasises to restorative justice for this approach to become more of a ‘just response’ to crime by reinforcing concerning factors about victims in regards to; the fear of crime, the impact of crime and victims experiences (Hoyle, 2003, cited in Maguire, 1997).

For example, the reintegration of sexual offenders within communities is the most important form of crime that is most spoken about. Regarding people’s attitudes towards sexual offenders living within their communities is still in need of further research. However, the whole approach had a huge impact where there was a successful change within government policy, such as ‘Megan’s Law’ that is effective and operates in America and Canada in honour of murder victim Megan Kanka, who was raped and murdered by her neighbour in 1994, therefore, allows people to access the same details incorporating photographs of offenders, which is again is made publicly available as a result of that case (Megan’s Law, 2011). Therefore, we need to be mindful of how the media leads to the Politicisation and the need for further crime reduction as suddenly those victims, in particular, are potentially used and paraded in becoming seen as ‘vote winners’ (Hill, 2010), and we have to be reminded of those processes.

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In all the evaluation of the Traditional and Restorative Justice System, it may be distinguished that it provides a whole range of different approaches programmes, theories, principles and values. However, within the criminal justice process within the UK, one sign is that, unlike Retributive Justice where the response to crime is to increase that harm that is caused by the crime and increasing harm further on the offender, whereby restorative justice has been introduced not to replace punishment by a punitive response but neither to ignore the victim, but to seek some satisfaction from the harm caused by the offender.

Finally, restorative justice programmes may have been identified as at least successful as retributive justice systems argue that they may be least successful. In these cases, it’s widely believed that the COSA programme is more successful in treating only attitudes and behaviours of sex offenders. Thus, the programme may seek to decrease in sex offenders recidivism rates, which may give merit in accepting ex-offenders back into the community as civilised individual’s (perhaps who have been seen to be rehabilitated); therefore, restorative justice may become a ‘just’ resolution of a dispute then that provided by the traditional justice system.


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