Research assistant Tobi Coker’s summary explores Steve Kirkwood’s recent paper, A Practice Framework for Restorative Justice (2022, Aggression & Violence Behaviour, 63, 1-10). This article applies theoretical and empirical research to provide an up-to-date practice framework for restorative justice facilitation.
A practice framework for restorative justice combines theoretical and practical knowledge – mapping out a connection between values, principles, knowledge-related assumptions and practice guidelines – while cognisant of the key distinctions between dialogue and deliberations. Restorative justice is a value-driven practice that needs individual choice to achieve moral repair, and is guided by an ethical framework.
This practice framework uses Marshall’s definition of restorative justice as ‘a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.’
Restorative justice contrasts with formal criminal justice responses, notably adversarial court processes. The restorative process is collaborative: people communicate and work together to discuss the harm caused and how it may be repaired. It responds to Christie’s (1977) argument that criminal justice ‘steals conflicts‘ from those to whom they belong. Restorative conferencing is a common model that enables dialogue between the person responsible for the harm, the person harmed, and relevant support people. It may be used as an alternative to prosecution or in addition to formal processes. Reviews of restorative justice conferences have found that they can reduce the likelihood of further offending. Restorative justice is underpinned by values and principles that help orient it as an approach, and, to some extent, distinguish it from other ways of responding to criminal harm. The exact nature of these values, and how they relate to other parts of the practice framework, must be established clearly to demonstrate how restorative justice is different and ensure that it is delivered safely and effectively.
The ethical values that inform restorative justice as a practice and make it distinct from other approaches include voluntariness, safety, inclusion, dignity, respect, responsibility, accountability, truth-telling, and honesty. Both parties must participate willingly and voluntarily, with no person forced or compelled to take part. When both parties have volunteered, there is a need for safety such that there is no room for re-traumatisation of the victim and the offender does not feel maligned. Risk assessment (the process of identifying potential conflict) should be carried out during preparation to ensure it is safe for all. Inclusion is another ethical value that implores those delivering restorative processes to be inclusive when it comes to language, accessibility, culture, and other barriers to participation. The dignity and respectful treatment of both the offender and victim is essential, and there should be an appeal to the inherent moral worth of individuals. The offender must not be treated as less dignified and the person harmed should be treated with the utmost respect. Responsibility and accountability values attest to the offender’s willingness and readiness to accept responsibility and be held to account. Values of truth telling and honesty must always be upheld; it is impossible to move forward if the harm that was perpetrated is not admitted and honestly acknowledged by the offender, with an understanding of the harm that has been done to the victim.
The prudential values of restorative justice include mutual understanding, reparation and repairing harm. Not all these values apply to every service, given that the outcomes people seek may be highly variable, as the process should cater to the specific needs and wishes of those involved. The prudential values are individual choice (which is the most important), mutual understanding, reparation, repairing of harm, agreement, truth, healing, recovery, rehabilitation, reintegration, restoration, transformation, desistance, reconciliation, and forgiveness. These values must be understood together: there cannot be a successful restorative justice service if there is no collective understanding of why the process is being held and why the harm needs to be addressed. Reparation and repairing harm are crucial as these help the offender to make amends and give the victim a chance to offer forgiveness.
Restorative justice seeks to heal and put right the wrongs of crime. It facilitates opportunities for those responsible for harm to make things right. The main ‘niche‘ for restorative justice is the ‘moral domain’. It understands crime as harmful behavior that hurts people and relationships. It also assumes people are inherently good, able to comprehend the moral rightness or wrongness of their behavior, and capable of taking responsibility and making amends. The ‘ideal offender‘ for restorative justice is assumed to be ‘immature’, in the sense that they lack understanding of the harm they have caused but seek redemption. Yet, people are not equally equipped to engage in restorative justice processes. The capability of potential participants to engage fully in the process must be considered. Restorative justice may contribute to both ‘identity‘ and ‘relational‘ desistance. Making amends and experiencing redemption and forgiveness are key processes for realigning oneself with a moral community. Enacting a restorative justice ritual is likely to require real-time, in-person interaction, which privileges face-to-face encounters. Key elements of a successful ritual include ‘shared focus through conversational rhythm’, ‘conversational and power balance’, a ‘turning point’ and ‘public displays of solidarity’.
The primary focus of restorative justice is to repair moral harm through dialogue and deliberation. This distinguishes it from other responses to criminal harm, and from similar interventions intended to address disputes and conflicts. As a practice, restorative justice aims to promote reparation, rehabilitation, resistance and recovery. How such outcomes are achieved is informed by restorative principles and values. Reparation can be distinguished from rehabilitative- or desistance-focused outcomes, although these may be closely linked. Restorative approaches to rehabilitation should also be informed by evidence on effective practice. Restorative justice can help people demonstrate a commitment to the wider moral community through reparative acts. It can also aid in the development or solidification of a new pro-social identity. This can involve the use of reintegrative shaming and carefully constructed rituals.
Restorative justice practice is shaped by its social, cultural, and historical contexts. Its use in youth justice should be based on the balanced model, which gives equal weight to the involvement of the young person responsible for harm, the person harmed, and the community. However, the framework must be tested in different contexts to explore whether it must be tweaked or is applicable in every situation.