The Future of Restorative Justice

The Future of Restorative Justice

In the near future, the number of cases directed to neighborhood justice centers and victim–offender

reconciliation programs will grow because there is a movement toward informality throughout the criminal justice system. In practice, informality is marked by a preference for unwritten, flexible, commonsense, discretionary procedures tailored to fit particular cases. As an ideology, informality is characterized by an antipathy toward rigid hierar- chy, bureaucratic impersonality, and professional domination.

The growing interest in informal justice is fostered by several beliefs. One is that centralized governmental coercion has failed as an instrument of social change. Consequently, people must solve their own problems in decentralized, community-controlled settings. Another belief is that nonstranger conflicts ought to be diverted from the formal adjudication process whenever possible. The third contention is that both pun- ishment and rehabilitation efforts behind bars have failed to “cure” offenders, largely because criminal justice officials and agencies primarily serve the state’s interests (or their own), to the detriment of both offenders and victims. Enthusi- asm for informal alternatives is fed by perceptions that the criminal courts are paralyzed by huge caseloads, civil courts are swamped with frivolous lawsuits, and prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded. As a pragmatic response to such economic and political realities, informality beck- ons as a solution to the government’s fiscal crisis. Neighborhood justice centers and victim– offender reconciliation programs can relieve the overburdened criminal justice system at a time when calls for increased services are colliding with demands for reduced taxation (Able, 1982; and Van Ness and Strong, 1997).

Several potential problems could plague the extrajudicial approaches of family group conferenc- ing, alternative dispute resolution, and victim– offender reconciliation programs. If caseloads grow too large, mediators might be inclined to adopt an assembly line approach to speed up the process and avoid backlogs. Worse yet, overworked staff mem- bers might be tempted to eliminate the face-to-face mediation session entirely to dispose of a large case- load more quickly.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

Originally, the cases considered suitable for mediation, restitution, and reconciliation involved petty, nonviolent offenses against property. Program staff members acceded to this limitation to perfect their techniques, avoid controversy, and maintain funding and referral sources. But now legislators and judges seem increasingly willing to send conflicts marred by violence between strangers to mediation. Some of these more serious cases don’t fit the media- tion format, and the harm cannot be repaired through restitution. And other tough cases will require more time to resolve, professional mediators, a greater com- mitment of resources, and more support from social service and criminal justice agencies (Coates, 1990; Umbreit, 1990; Johnstone, 2001; and Wemmers, 2002). The risks of revictimization must be weighed against the prospects for reconciliation when, for example, mediators facilitate victim–offender dia- logue in father–daughter incest cases (Wilson, 2008).

In terms of political support, conservatives favoring small government might welcome the diversion of a larger number of cases to restorative justice programs as a way of saving taxpayer money, as long as individuals accept responsibility for their misdeeds and public safety is not endangered. Deeply religious people may find very appealing the emphasis on the offender admitting guilt and seeking redemption. Liberals generally support alternatives to mass incarceration that feature rein- tegration and a greater focus on the social problems that breed criminal activity (Belden, 2012).

Signs of conflict already have emerged within the restorative justice movement between practitioners and advocates over the accusation that some programs have strayed too far from the original victim-centered focus of repairing the harm done to individuals by making wrongdoers accept responsibility for their misdeeds. Offenders must show genuine remorse,

exhibit empathy, and sincerely apologize in order to elicit the forgiveness response that they seek. Overly enthusiastic staff members and mediators can pressure reluctant victims of serious violence to participate in a dialogue, but then insensitively impose simplistic, moralistic, or religious formulas on them: “Forgive and forget; learn to move on; reconciliation brings healing” (see Umbreit et al., 2004; Wilson, 2005; and Armour and Umbreit, 2006).

Furthermore, restorative justice can be oversold as a nonpunitive, redemption-oriented cure-all that can handle most criminal matters. It appears to be the humane and politically progressive alternative to mean-spirited retributive justice. Its popularity arises in part from the imposition of “compulsory compas- sion” on both good-natured victims and “sinners” seeking redemption (Acorn, 2004). Enthusiasm for other sweeping reforms in the past quickly led to disillusionment when they failed to live up to their potentials. Unfounded optimism greeted the substi- tution of supposedly rehabilitative reformatories in place of harsh corporal and capital punishment and of ostensibly treatment-oriented juvenile institutions to supplant a punitive adult court and prison system. A number of other highly touted innovations ulti- mately disappointed their advocates: The replacement of fixed terms of incarceration with indetermi- nate sentences that provided incentives for self- improvement; the use of scared-straight visits to prisons to shock delinquents into changing their ways; and the proliferation of boot camps as places to break youthful offenders of bad habits and build self-disciplined, law-abiding young men. Restorative justice programs may fall short too, but promising experimental programs that divert first-time, teenage, and nonviolent offenders into mediation conferences certainly merit an expanded role in the justice system of crime-ridden metropolitan areas.


During the twenty-first century, victims will pursue three very different courses of action. Most will seek to exercise their recently granted rights within the formal criminal justice process.

Another course of action that many victims and potential victims rely upon is armed self-defense. Gun laws have evolved over the years and now authorize greater proportions of residents of most

488 CH APT ER 13

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

states to obtain firearms and carry around concealed handguns for self-protection. Victims under attack have greater backing from the law in those states that have adopted stand your ground or castle doc- trines. Unfortunately, some distraught victims will pursue what can best be described as retaliatory jus- tice or even vigilantism. This do-it-yourself approach has a long and bloody history. It arises from a preoccupation with exacting revenge and a frustration with the cumbersome criminal justice process. As opposed to legitimate self-defense, retal- iatory violence visited upon suspected predators

Place Your Order Here!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *