Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Restorative Justice in Practice

Many countries now have experience of using restorative justice in their criminal justice systems, and there is considerable international support for it. The European Union Council Framework Decision (2001) states that victim-offender mediation should be available in all member states by March 2006.In 2002, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice passed a resolution recommending restorative justice programmes.

There are several ways that restorative work is actually put into practice in criminal justice systems in different countries, and many Quakers are involved. This article summarises some key approaches. Mediation in various forms is a central tool.

Mediation: when and how?

Effective mediation depends upon two things. The first is that the offender acknowledges responsibility.  Without this, mediation is not possible. The second requirement is impartial and skilled mediators. Their role is to facilitate the mediation process, supporting and working with all the parties involved.

When mediation is done well, its first achievement is greater mutual understanding. Once that point is reached, the next step is to identify appropriate means of reparation. The aim is to repair the harm done, insofar as this is possible.

Mediation can take place in the criminal justice system at all stages (provided the offender acknowledges responsibility):
  • Prior to any arrest, there can be diversion to community or school mediation
  • At arrest, there can be diversion by police to a mediation process
  • Between conviction and sentencing, mediation can be invoked and may well influence the sentence
  • Post-sentence, in the community or in prison
Depending on circumstances mediation can be between any of the following:
  • Victim-offender: Victim(s) and offender(s) directly involved in a particular crime/harmful act
  • Victim-offender conferencing: victims, offenders, their families, and other relevant members of the community.
  • Family Group Conferencing: Similar to victim/offender conferencing but the offender’s family has some private time to come up with a viable plan for reparation and for the future.
  • Victim-offender groups: groups in which victims of crime and offenders meet, usually for a set number of sessions, where the victims have suffered similar crimes (but not the actual crimes) to those perpetrated by the offenders.

Benefits of mediation for victims, offenders, the courts, and the community

Victims have the opportunity to
  • learn about the offender and put a face to the crime
  • ask questions of the offender
  • express their feelings and needs after the crime
  • receive an apology and/or appropriate reparation
  • educate offenders about the effects of their offences
  • sort out any existing conflict
  • be part of the criminal justice process
  • put the crime behind them

Offenders have the opportunity to
  • own the responsibility for their crime
  • find out the effect of their crime
  • apologise and/or offer appropriate reparation
  • reassess their future behaviour in the light of this knowledge

Courts have the opportunity to
  • learn about victims’ needs
  • make more realistic sentences

Communities have the opportunity to
  • accept apologies and reparation from offenders
  • help reintegrate victims and offenders

Related processes, aimed at reducing the likelihood of offences being committed

There are several other processes and services which, while not restoring victims directly, work to reduce the likelihood of more victims being created. Friends have been involved in pioneering many of these, notably the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), and Circles of Support and Accountability for sex offenders.

Community Mediation Services: these services use mediation to defuse neighbour and community conflict, some of which could escalate into crime.

Restorative justice in schools: The ideas of restorative justice can be transferred to schools. In the UK there are two government-backed projects and many other examples. Processes involved can include peer mediation, Circle Time, mediation to avoid school exclusion and re-orientating the whole disciplinary system along restorative lines. since 1980 many British Friends have been involved in school mediation work, but it has only recently been seen as coming within the ‘restorative justice’ orbit.

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Further Reading and Credits

further reading
  • Liebmann M (2007) Restorative Justice: How It Works, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London.