Why Some People Will Never Accept Restorative Justice Despite the Evidence

Introduction

Restorative justice, with its focus on healing and reconciliation, has garnered significant attention and support worldwide. Numerous studies and real-world examples highlight its effectiveness in reducing recidivism and promoting social harmony. However, despite the evidence supporting its merits, there are individuals and communities steadfastly resistant to the idea of restorative justice. This article explores the psychological, cultural, and social factors that contribute to this resistance, delving into case studies, insights from thought leaders, and historical and contemporary perspectives.

The Psychology of Resistance

One reason some people resist restorative justice lies in the psychological realm. The human desire for retribution and a sense of justice being served can often clash with the empathetic, rehabilitative approach of restorative justice. For many, the idea that offenders should face consequences akin to the harm they caused is deeply ingrained, making it difficult to accept an alternative approach, no matter the evidence supporting its efficacy.

The landscape of criminal justice is profoundly shaped by conservative political agendas, media sensationalism, and a dominant retributive justice paradigm, which collectively sideline the nuanced needs of victims and obscure successful alternatives like restorative justice (RJ). This dynamic is further complicated by a general lack of awareness of the scientific consensus among criminologists and the demonstrated success of RJ in Europe.

Conservative Politics and the Retributive Justice Model

Conservative politics often drive the justice system toward a retributive model that prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation. This approach is rooted in the belief that severe penalties will deter crime, a perspective that aligns with conservative values of order and accountability but overlooks the broader social benefits of rehabilitative and restorative approaches. Such political influences frequently ignore the scientific consensus among criminologists that emphasizes the effectiveness of RJ in reducing recidivism and supporting victim healing.

Media Sensationalism and Public Perception

The role of media in shaping public opinion cannot be understated. Sensationalist news media and crime dramas focus heavily on violent crimes and punitive measures, reinforcing a vigilante justice paradigm where the narrative revolves around victims craving violent revenge. This media portrayal supports a simplistic understanding of justice as merely punitive, overshadowing the complex needs of victims for healing and closure, and largely ignoring the restorative options that could address these needs more effectively.

Ignorance Regarding Victims’ Needs

In the shadow of a punitive justice focus, the needs of victims are often neglected. The traditional system, bolstered by conservative policies and media narratives, fails to provide victims with a voice or an active role in the justice process. This oversight denies victims the therapeutic benefits of RJ, such as the opportunity to confront their offenders, contribute to the resolution process, and achieve a sense of closure that the conventional system seldom offers.

Lack of Awareness of RJ’s Success and Criminological Support

Despite the strong endorsement of RJ by criminologists and its success in European contexts—where it has been shown to significantly reduce crime and aid in community healing—there is a pervasive lack of awareness of these facts among policymakers and the public. The successful implementation of RJ in places like Norway and the UK highlights its potential as a viable alternative to traditional punitive methods, offering compelling evidence that could challenge the prevailing justice paradigms if more widely recognized and understood.

The Possibilities for Change

To counteract these challenges, it is essential to initiate informed discussions that bridge the gap between uninformed views on punishment and the benefits of RJ. Increasing public and political awareness of the scientific backing for RJ and its success across Europe could help shift the narrative towards a more balanced justice approach. Advocacy should focus on educating stakeholders about the advantages of RJ, not only for offenders but critically for victims, whose needs have been consistently marginalized.

Evidence Shows the widespread success of Restorative Justice

Multiple studies across the U.S., UK, Australia and other countries show RJ commonly delivers benefits to victims that the conventional justice process does not. Ten evaluations using interviews, surveys and/or psychological assessments found that victims reported higher satisfaction with RJ compared to normal prosecution. Victims valued the chance to ask questions and explain impact directly to their offenders (Angel, 2005; McCold & Wachtel, 1998; McGarrell et al., 2000; Strang, 2002).

Common benefits expressed by RJ participants include reduced fear and anger toward their offender, perceived protection from revictimization, and ability to move on from the crime. Notably, two RCTs in London found RJ significantly lowered post-traumatic stress symptoms among robbery and burglary victims compared to controls receiving conventional justice (Angel, 2005). This highlights potential for RJ to improve victims’ mental health and reduce costs of services needed to address trauma.

Effects on Repeat Offending

A consistent concern about RJ has been whether it might allow offenders to avoid appropriate punishment and increase crime. While earlier research was limited, recent rigorous randomized controlled trials find RJ reduces recidivism for certain offenses and offenders compared to controls.

Six experiments found less repeat offending after participation in RJ for violent crimes, with reductions of up to 84 fewer arrests per 100 offenders compared to controls in one study (McCold & Wachtel, 1998; Pennell & Burford, 2000; Sherman et al., 2006). Three RCTs report recidivism reductions after property crime as well, though evidence is somewhat mixed (Bonta et al., 1998; McGarrell et al., 2000; Sherman et al., 2006). However, three other evaluations show no difference in repeat offending for some RJ samples including certain property crimes (Luke & Lind, 2002; Sherman et al., 2000; Triggs, 2005).

Importantly, one RCT found RJ increased repeat offending among a small sample of 23 young Aboriginal property crime offenders versus controls in Canberra (Sherman et al., 2006). This highlights the critical need to carefully evaluate RJ with minority populations. Overall, however, empirical evidence to date indicates RJ does not increase crime across most rigorous studies if implemented properly.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the resistance to restorative justice, despite compelling evidence supporting its efficacy, is a complex phenomenon rooted in psychological, cultural, and societal factors. The clash between the human desire for retribution and the empathetic, rehabilitative principles of restorative justice creates a profound challenge. Cultural norms, historical influences, and deeply ingrained beliefs about justice further contribute to this resistance.

Summary of the most prominent papers on the effectiveness of restorative justice:

  1. “Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Programs, OJJDP-Funded Research in Brief” by Wilson, Olaghere, and Kimbrell (2017): This paper provides a meta-analysis of high-quality, quantitative studies that evaluate the effectiveness of various restorative justice programs. The authors found that certain restorative justice programs could reduce future youth delinquency and increase victim satisfaction with the outcome.
  2. “The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis” by the Research and Statistics Division of the Canadian Department of Justice (date unknown): This paper provides a meta-analysis of studies that compare restorative justice to traditional non-restorative approaches. The authors found that restorative justice was generally more successful at reducing reoffending and improving victim satisfaction.
  3. “Effectiveness of restorative justice practices” by the European Forum for Restorative Justice (2017): This paper provides an overview of empirical research on the benefits of restorative justice practices in Europe. The authors found that restorative justice practices can lead to positive outcomes for victims, offenders, and communities.
  4. “THE EFFECTIVENESS OF RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PRACTICES: A META-ANALYSIS” by Latimer and Kleinknecht (2000): This paper provides a comprehensive literature review of the effectiveness of restorative justice. The authors found that restorative justice can lead to positive outcomes for victims, offenders, and communities, but that more research is needed to better understand its mechanisms and to identify which types of programs are most effective.
  5. “Evidence supporting the use of restorative justice” by the Restorative Justice Council in the UK (date unknown): This paper provides a summary of the evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice. The authors cite a systematic review by the Campbell Collaboration that found restorative justice both reduces reoffending and improves victim satisfaction.
  6. “MoJ evaluation of restorative justice” by the University of Sheffield (date unknown): This paper evaluates three restorative justice schemes in the UK and found that restorative justice led to a 14% reduction in the rate of reoffending and that 85% of victims were satisfied with the process of meeting their offender face to face.

Overall, these papers provide strong evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice in reducing reoffending and improving victim satisfaction. However, more research is needed to better understand the mechanisms of restorative justice and to identify which types of programs are most effective.