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Among the postmodern theories and practices of criminal justice system, the concept of Restorative Justice has found increased use. The theory impresses that the offender or the person who has committed a crime would take responsibility for his action. The victim would interact with the offender and receives an apology. In some cases, the offender would also work and earn money to pay for the damages caused to the victim. The process attempts to create a dialogue between the two and this has resulted in increased satisfaction for the victim, the offender feels accountable for his actions and there is also lesser recidivism. The process attempts to promote a social movement and looks to provide solutions that will heal and repair and try to rebuild relations while the offender turns much more proactive and would show lesser tendency to return to crime. Restorative justice also attempts to rehabilitate small time offenders by providing them training so that they can get jobs. The paper performs an analysis and examination of Restorative Justice theory as it relates to inmates and parolees.
Understanding the Restorative Justice Process
Braithwaite (1994) speaks of a new method of crime deterrence that involves ‘shaming’ the offender through community policing. In this method, juvenile offenders who have been arrested for minor crimes can be turned back to the path of law abiding citizens and contribute to the society. The author reported that counseling, warning and shaming such offenders were often much more effective that incarceration in a jail where such offenders would be exposed to hardened criminals, accused of violent crime such as murder. The author shows that there is a change in the approach used in restorative justice than when compared to the current justice system. While restorative justice process seeks to fin d out who has been hurt and their needs and who should be obliged to restore the healing, the present judicial system focuses on laws that have been broken, who the criminals are and to what extent punishment can be meted out. In restorative justice, the emphasis is on healing as a way of transforming criminals while in the current system, the emphasis is on punishment as a form of deterrence.
Restorative justice system victim-centric and not state centric, meaning that the offender is under pressure to reform and mend his delinquent ways. Among the many methods are victim offender mediation, family group conferencing, community conferencing, Community Restorative Boards, Restorative Circles, Circles of Support and others (Jaimie, 2005).
According to Braithwaite (1994), Changes in juvenile justice along with the community response towards crimes committed by youths makes the assumption that police officers would take the new task surveillance and enforcement activities and also in the sanctioning and reintegrative process. Family group conferencing models have been introduced in many cities and in countries such as New Zealand and Australia. In these countries, police personal act as facilitators and take up roles of mediator in a community conference where young offenders are present along with the victims and their friends and families. The author has proposed the reintegrative shaming to deal with juvenile crime. Wile police personnel are expected to assume this role, more studies have to be taken to assess the effectiveness of their actions.
Problems addressed by Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice would address the following problems (LA Times, 30 August 2004):
- Create a psychological understanding among offenders that what they have done is wrong and the petty gains they have obtained from the crime would not help them in any way.
- Create a bonding with the victim and make the offender see the effects of the crime he has committed
- Provide inmates and parolees with education and training so that they can earn a living for themselves rather than take up serious crime. A parolee has a certain stigma attached, it would be difficult for him to obtain a job, and he would probably not have any skills. By providing education and training and the means to earn a living, the justice system is providing him a tool to make a decent citizen out of himself.
Applications to Parolees and Inmates
McCold (2008) argues that treatment of parolees and inmates for non-violent and petty crimes is often tinged with suspicion that the offenders would never reform and the only way to reform them is to punish them. Over the years, it can be seen that there is no reduction in crimes and there is a general failure of the criminal justice. Therefore, jail sentences are not very effective in controlling crime. The author argues that in the case of parolees and inmates in jails for petty crime, the system has to ensure that the offenders be given a chance to atone and regret their crimes. There is also a need to provide the skills and vocational training so that they can take up jobs when they are released. The author reiterates that there have been mixed reactions for this type of process and while detractors claim that this system is as bad as the old system, supporters point out a reduction in reductions in recidivism of 15%. According to McCord, failures are in many cases to improper application of the methods, lack of training and an absence of good and trained mediators. However, the author suggests that even the worst managed cases are better off than the current judicial system.
Morris (1993) reports that in some counties of Australia, mediators and police officers along with senior community members, council young offenders call together a conference where the main invitees and the offenders and the victims, families of both the victims and offenders and the general public that are interested in the well being of the community. All people are encouraged to speak about the crime and how it impacted their lives. The offender and his family are also allowed to speak about how things came to this end and then a plan of action is proposed. While the offender is made to apologies to the victim and the family, the offender is often made to pay a punitive fine of about 100 USD. The offenders are expected to earn the money to pay the victim and may be asked to perform certain chores like mowing the lawn or taking out the garbage. The effort here is to discipline and educate the offender and attempt to bring him back into the mainstream of the community.
Many US states such as California Ohio, Minnesota, Vermont and others have started the circles of support for parolees and inmates. Before the circles of support started, offenders were released after their term was over without any counseling or support circles. Repeat offenders percentage was as high as 90% and many of the former juvenile offenders turned to violent crime. The circle selected 120 offenders and offered them support in the form of counseling career options and training in vocational skills and other methods but the circle members held the offenders as accountable. It has been reported that for this group, repeat offender percentage reduced by 50%. Such a criminal justice procedure helps to foster reintegrative and discourages stigmatic forms of shaming. There is also a tendency to accept responsibility by offenders and brings in the system of apology, forgiveness, restitution and discourages exclusionary forms of punishment and outcasting. What is most important is that after the offender regrets his action, he can make use of the training to get a job or even become an entrepreneur (Liebmann, 2007).
Clearly there is a lot of potential for bringing out reform for parolees and inmates who have been out away for minor offences. There are twin benefits to the restorative justice process. One that both the victims and offenders go through the healing process and two that the strain on the prison system is reduced. The LA Times (LA Times, 30 August 2004 )reports that the Legislators from California legislators passed a bill that gave prisoners schooling and job training, something that the state had not done for many years. One of the Senators made a rule whereby an inmate was to be evaluated within 90 days of being jailed and then an educational program was to be created that would help the inmates to obtain high school equivalent degrees or training in vocational skills. The senator claimed that such measures would help to reduce costs by reducing the recidivism. Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested various measures for rehabilitation and reform of juvenile and small time offenders, as this would reduce the money required for the upkeep of more prisoners. The governor wanted to reduce the strength of prisoners from 162,000 to 117,000, claiming that 900 million USD is spent every year on re-incarcerating offenders and very often, just months after their release. Adopting the restorative justice measures would cost less than 400 million USD, besides improving the social fiber of the society. More and more cities are adopting one of the methods of restorative justice. Restorative justice has been used to offenses related to property small crimes and offenses related to civil and criminal matters. However, these principles have yet to be applied to violent crimes such as sexual assault, armed robbery, murder and shooting, drug offences domestic violence and other such crimes and such offenses are tried under the juvenile offences. There are also suggestions that since this process is evolving with no hard and fast rules, care should be taken to ensure that the process is applied carefully.
The paper has discussed restorative justice process that is a healing process where both the offenders and the victims are made to speak to each other and the offender is changed by the pressures applied from the inner self and family. The offender is also given guidance and counseling along with vocational training that would help him to get a job. A few examples of how the system has been applied have also been presented. The conclusion is that while restorative justice is a credible form of justice, the field is still evolving and certain guidelines and procedures have to be drafted.
Braithwaite, J., Mugford, S. (1994), “Conditions of successful reintegration ceremonies: dealing with juvenile offenders”, The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 34 No.2, pp.139-71
Jaimie. Beven., (2005). Restoration or Renovation: Evaluating Restorative Justice Outcomes. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 12(1), pp. 194-203
LA Times. (2004). State prisons revolving door: Governors reform option. Los Angeles Times, pp: B8.
Liebmann, M. (2007). Restorative Justice: How it Works. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
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McCold, Paul. (2008). Protocols for evaluating restorative justice programmes. British Journal of Community Justice, 6(2), pp: 9-29.
Morris, A. & Maxwell, G.M. (1993). Juvenile justice in New Zealand: a new paradigm”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, vol. 26, pp. 72-90.
Walker, L.,& E Makua Ana, 2005. Youth Circles: A Transition Planning Process for Youth Exiting Foster Care, VOMA Connections No. 21