School for Social Work
Restorative justice (RJ), an alternative to the dominant retributive justice system, is a more holistic approach that encompasses the victim, offender and the community. This study supplemented existing research by exploring the perceptions of RJ experts and facilitators on the impact of RJ practices on offender reentry, as well as victim and community satisfaction. The study addressed the following questions: What is restorative justice? What are the major outcomes and challenges? What is the role of social work? The review of the literature compared the retributive justice model with a restorative justice framework for responding to crime. As restorative justice is a relatively new area of research, the study used a flexible research design to understand the emerging phenomenon. Data were gathered through narrative interviews with ten RJ experts and facilitators, including several pioneers in the field. Restorative justice is not simply victim offender mediation, although they often get confused. Fully restorative practices, which involve the victim, offender, and community, have several different applications including victim-offender meetings for less serious crime, serious and violent crime dialogue, circle processes, and community accountability boards. Partly restorative practices, which do not include all the stakeholders, include contacting victims, community service and defense outreach. The study's most significant finding, however, was that specific programs are far less important than the philosophy and principles associated with restorative justice. Study participants reported several outcome criteria including victim and community satisfaction, offender recidivism rates, offender satisfaction, restitution payment, and story-telling. Seven out of ten noted that restorative justice interventions were mostly positive, and struggled to come up with a single negative example. The two factors most likely to contribute to negative outcomes were lack of preparation on the part of the facilitator(s) and inappropriateness of a participant. Although funding was seen as a major challenge, the most significant challenge participants noted was creating a paradigm shift in the way criminal justice is viewed. The U.S. justice system is based largely on a punitive approach, while restorative justice requires systems thinking in which the offender, victim and community all play an important role. Participants felt that a balanced approach—both top-down and bottom-up—was needed to grow and sustain the restorative justice movement. Created largely through grassroots, volunteer efforts, field workers need to collaborate more to share best practices, advocate for greater funding, and educate the public. At the same time, if restorative justice is going to have lasting impact on the justice system, it needs government involvement to provide additional legitimacy, funding and support. Additional research is also needed, along with clearer benchmarks of successful outcomes. Restorative justice values greatly mirror social work values of self determination, individuality, acceptance and accountability. To keep ordinance with the Social Work Code of Ethics, social workers should be aware of this philosophy so they may positively advocate for clients as well as more just and principled statewide and national policies. At the same time social workers should be aware that mixing the roles of therapist and restorative justice facilitator could be detrimental to restorative justice outcomes. Those who wish to facilitate victim offender dialogue should do so carefully.
Ames, Jessica C., "Restorative justice : including victims, offenders and communities in criminal justice dialogue" (2007). Masters Thesis, Smith College, Northampton, MA.