Intern Catriona Kenny’s second summary focuses on victims in restorative justice. She reviews the paper by Van Camp and Wemmers, Victim Satisfaction with Restorative Justice: More Than Simply Procedural Justice (2013, International Review of Victimology, 19(2), 117-143) which stresses the opportunity restorative justice provides victims to participate based on pro-social motives – that is, to use the process to support and help the perpetrator.
Victim satisfaction with restorative justice can be explained, in part, by the perceived fairness of the restorative approach, validating its relationship with procedural justice. However, other aspects unique to the restorative approach play a key role in victim satisfaction with restorative justice – notably, its flexibility, the provision of care, the focus on dialogue and that it permits pro-social motives to be addressed.
The purpose of this empirical research was to determine the explanatory factors for victim satisfaction with restorative justice and the extent to which this relates to procedural justice. Restorative justice is conceptualised as a set of values or as a process, with a focus on healing and recognition in the former, and on participation, communication, and solution development in the latter. Procedural justice theory centres on the perceived fairness in the process of conflict resolution, and includes whether one: feels a sense of control over the processes and decisions; has trust in a mediator’s facilitation and judgement; is treated respectfully by the mediator and offender; perceives neutrality by those dealing with conflict; and has a voice to communicate concerns/opinions. Each operates as a ‘cushion of support’ so that people may still be satisfied with the process, even if the outcomes are imperfect or unfavourable.
The study included a range of interventions, including victim-offender mediation, family group conferences and victim-offender encounters (voluntary, facilitated meetings between surrogate victims and surrogate offenders to share their experiences). The research participants included 34 adult victims of violent crime in Belgium and Canada who participated in one of the above interventions. Each victim participated in a semi-directive interview, designed to capture their personal reflections on their experiences of the restorative intervention.
Restorative Justice Complies with Procedural Justice
Congruent to a procedural justice model, all participants were satisfied with their restorative intervention, even if they were dissatisfied with the outcome. This was due to a weakening of the negative impact of the unsatisfactory outcome, provided by the perceived fairness of the process. Reported outcome dissatisfaction was attributed to the offender’s negative attitude, their lack of engagement and/or their use of the restorative intervention to their own advantage, rather than dissatisfaction with the process. Procedural fairness is linked to the facilitation and process of the restorative intervention, while outcome satisfaction is linked to offenders.
The process provided victims with a chance to dictate their participation in the intervention, and what topics could be addressed therein. It gave them a voice by enabling communication between stakeholders to address their unanswered concerns and questions. It made victims feel safe and empowered, serving “descriptive, emotion-expressive and value-expressive purposes” (p. 125). Offenders who were attentive, sincere and respectful provided participants with higher rates of overall satisfaction. Trustable, respectful and neutral mediators also related to victim satisfaction.
Restorative interventions provided victims with process control to communicate with offenders in a safe and informal environment, facilitating a recognition of the consequences of the crime. This was perceived as fair, validating, and empowering for victims. Victims expressed that this informal recognition complimented the necessary, formal accountability through the criminal justice system. Victims favoured a dual-track model of justice in which restorative processes provided process control, informal dialogue, validation and empowerment, but formal decision control remained with the criminal justice proceedings.
The quality of interactions with mediators was significant for victim satisfaction. Mediators are a source of practical and emotional support for both stakeholders. They provide information regarding the objectives, voluntariness and individual roles in the restorative process. Extensive communication with mediators, in a professional, dignified and personalised manner, provided expectation clarity for the victims.
Restorative Justice Extends Beyond Procedural Justice
Victims appreciated the flexibility of restorative justice and its malleability to their individual needs. Victims had process control. They could dictate their personal timing and other specific needs, negotiate their consent to participate at any time, adapt the intervention to suit to their specific purposes for involvement, and discuss their underlying issues and emotions otherwise not mentioned in a formal justice model. The ability for restorative justice to involve victims “at their own pace, at their own discretion and according to their own needs” (p.130) is a level of flexibility that a procedural justice template alone cannot offer.
Victims praised mediators for their ability to address and support their emotional needs. The rapport between mediators and victims meant victims felt supported, empowered and prepared throughout the process. Transcending the decision-making focus of procedural justice, the data suggest that restorative justice also provides scope to care for the stakeholders involved.
Restorative justice exceeds the ‘voice’ within procedural fairness by facilitating a bi-directional dialogue between stakeholders, thereby contributing to victims’ satisfaction. Dialogue allowed for stakeholders to ask and answer questions and build understanding, something neglected by a standard criminal justice process. The absence of formal consequences attached to restorative interventions allowed offenders to be more truthful, contributing to victims’ closure.
Victims further appreciated the opportunity to address pro-social interests/motives. Restorative interventions allowed victims to address underlying justice motives that were in the interest of others and the community. Examples include raising victim awareness, promoting desistance, helping offenders better to understand the consequences of their actions, offer forgiveness and contribute to rehabilitation. These underlying pro-social motives are also not accounted for in a procedural justice model, but can be addressed and achieved through restorative justice.
Victim satisfaction with restorative justice is not only related to its responsiveness to procedural fairness determinants. Victims’ appreciation with the restorative approach lies in its ability to transcend these determinants with flexibility, provision of care, facilitation of bi-directional dialogue and addressing of pro-social motives. Victims acknowledged that restorative justice and judicial proceedings pursue different outcomes, but felt that they could still compliment each other in a dual-track model of justice.