Restorative Justice Essay

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Does Restorative Justice Reduce Recidivism?

Though restorative justice has become an increasingly popular practice in the criminal justice field, there is still no concise, universally acceptable definition of the concept. There is often confusion over what actually constitutes restorative justice, with the concept usually being used interchangeably with terms such as relational justice, peacemaking criminology, transformative justice, and community justice (Latimer, Dowden & Muise, 2005). Even so, restorative justice is essentially an approach to offender rehabilitation where the offender is reconciled with victim(s) and/or the larger community (Wenzel et al., 2008). In other words, all stakeholders in a certain offense jointly resolve how to deal with the consequences of the offense.

The fundamental idea behind restorative justice is that an offense constitutes a violation of not only the law, but also individuals and relationships (Stamatakis & Vandeviver, 2013). Restorative justice, therefore, seeks to mend this violation. It provides an opportunity for the victim, the offender, and the community to talk about the offense and work together in finding some form of consensus about appropriate recompense. This process involves a number of important elements: voluntariness, one-on-one encounter in a secure setting (often outside typical criminal justice institutions), dialogue, openness and honesty, acceptance of responsibility on the part of the offender, and, most importantly, mutual satisfaction between the offender and the victim (Dzur, 2003; Latimer, Dowden & Muise, 2005).
Further, the process may take a number of forms, notably victim-offender mediations, conferences, sentencing circles, reparative boards, restitution, and community service (Elis, 2005).

Utilising different designs, from anecdotal accounts to randomised assignments, research in this area has shown that restorative justice can generate positive outcomes. By bringing parties to a wrongful act together, restorative justice can contribute to victim recovery, offender satisfaction, compliance with restitution, and recidivism (Dzur, 2003; Stamatakis & Vandeviver, 2013). Indeed, restorative justice has ever more been suggested as a useful way of addressing the problem of recidivism, also known as repeat offending. In their meta-analysis of 22 studies, comparing the effectiveness of restorative justice programs and conventional rehabilitation programs, Latimer, Dowden & Muise (2005) found that the former was effective in reducing recidivism. Nonetheless, majority of the restorative programs included in the meta-analysis were characterised by self-selection bias. This is, however, a common phenomenon in restorative justice research. A narrative review by Elis (2005) further shows that restorative justice programs can reduce the rate of recidivism. They bring the offender to a deeper, emotional realisation of the impact of their offense on the victim, consequently minimising the tendency of repeat offending. The review, however, focused on programs targeted at juvenile female offenders, which somewhat diminishes the applicability of the findings to the larger offender population.


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Dzur, A. (2003). Civic implications of restorative justice theory: citizen participation and criminal justice policy. Policy Studies, 36(3/4), 279-306.

Elis, L. (2005). Restorative justice programs, gender, and recidivism. Public Organisation Review, 5(4), 375-389.

Latimer, J., Dowden, C., & Muise, D. (2005). The effectiveness of restorative justice practices: a meta-analysis. The Prison Journal, 85(2), 127-144.

Sherman, L., Strang, H., Mayo-Wilson, E., Woods, D., & Ariel, B. (2015). Are restorative justice conferences effective in reducing repeat offending? Findings from a Campbell systematic review. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 31, 1-24.

Stamatakis, N., & Vandeviver, C. (2013). Restorative justice in Belgian prisons: the results of an empirical research. Crime, Law and Social Change, 59(1), 79-111.

Wenzel, M., Okimoto, T., Feather, N., & Platow, M. (2008). Retributive and restorative justice. Law and Human Behaviour, 32, 375-389.

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