Restorative justice has gained popularity in today’s criminal justice system as an idea that represents a fresh alternative to the conventional, adversarial model of justice. By giving a criminal a chance to repair the harm done to the individual victim or the entire society, restorative justice provides a foundation for improvement in the criminal’s morale and helps society solve some of its problems. This paper will consider how understanding the causes of crime can make the restorative-justice process more effective. It will also consider the advantages of this model and the assistance provided by restorative-justice principles to victims.
Understanding the Causes of Crime
Understanding of what caused their crimes will help criminals take actions to correct their behavior in the future. Quite often, environment and family will supply them with inadequate explanations, for instance, heaping the full burden of guilt on the individual for being ‘bad.’ Restorative justice, in contrast, can create an environment in which the context and other factors of crime become more clear.
One of the popular theories that help criminals understand the causes of crime is social learning theory. Its basic premise is that “behavior is often patterned after the observed habits of others” (FSU 2005). Criminals become criminals by learning unacceptable behavior in street gangs and other environments where it is the norm. An adolescent who grew up in such environment may see top-level gangsters as the most successful people and adequate role models, choosing to imitate them later on. Where more socially acceptable role models are missing, the person may choose to pursue criminal behavior styles.
Restorative justice can help criminals realize that their crimes are motivated by lack of learned behaviors that would help them to adjust to the mainstream society. Understanding that successful life is possible outside of the gangster subculture and receiving assistance through restorative justice programs, criminals can learn new behavior patterns. Involvement in such programs will put them in contact with new people with a vastly different background from their own, a fact that may assist them in the restoration process. In this case, they will receive new role models that will expose them to the adequate lifestyle choices.
Another helpful way to alert criminals to the underlying causes of their behavior that can be corrected through the criminal justice system is to explain to them the labeling theory. This theory regards self as a “social construct” and believes the criminal justice system to perpetuate negative behavior through “creating “criminal” self-image” (Sutherland).
According to William Lemert, “acceptance of criminal label permits full acceptance of criminal career” (Sutherland). When the criminal realizes that his or her criminal career is caused by the acceptance of the label, it becomes easier to reject this degrading label. Involvement in community work through restorative justice programs creates a new identity for the person if supervisors are successful in helping the person identify with the new activity. In particular, the learning of a new profession can become a way to overcome the criminal label as a person will start to identify oneself with a new career.
Principles of Restorative Justice and Victims
Out of eleven principles of restorative justice listed by Ron Clausen, Director Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University, the most important for helping the victim is the one the recognizes that crime is associated not only with dangers but also with opportunities. This opportunity lies in the fact that “injustice is recognized, the equity is restored (restitution and grace), and the future is clarified so that participants are safer, more respectful, and more empowered and cooperative with each other and society” (Claasen 1996). Following this principle, it is possible in the ideal situation to make both the victim and the criminal depart from the traumatic experience more empowered and confident, possessing a more optimistic view of the future.
Another important principle of restorative justice is its focus on the community as the victim of the crime in a broad understanding and the call that reparation is made to both primary (immediately affected) and secondary victims (family members, friends, etc.). The inclusion of a broad range of victims helps make the restorative process more efficient as it focuses on some victims whose concerns were left unaddressed by other systems of justice.
The principles of Restorative Justice aim to “make things as right as possible” to deliver the maximum possible compensation to the victim (Claasen 1996). It can include the reparation of physical damage, compensation of financial losses, and even restoration of damage to relationships of the victim. The victim under restorative justice, therefore, is likely to receive much more assistance than under the conventional system focused on the specifics of punishment imposed on the criminal.
The Advantages of Restorative Justice
The above description of how principles of restorative justice aid the victims of crimes demonstrates that society can greatly benefit from the replacement of large part of adversarial measures by restorative justice principles. By focusing on the victim’s sufferings and postulating that “crime is primarily an offense against human relationships, and secondarily a violation of law,” it takes the criminal justice system back to its roots – the need to promote human well-being and safety (Claasen 1996). People become the main concern of the system that benefits all three parties to the crime and justice – the victim, the criminal, and the community.
With the previous section covering the victims, the criminal is also an important focus of restorative justice that aims to transform him or her into a new person, with a better understanding of the perils and viciousness of crime and knowledge of new ways to handle life. Besides, the restorative justice system today is more flexible than retributive justice and results in a more individual approach to specific cases (BPF). This helps the system to display greater flexibility in judgments.
The society will undoubtedly benefit from the reduction in the number of court sentences that result in imprisonment. Instead of costly support of imprisoned offenders, their labor can be utilized on socially meaningful occupations (BPF). It is hoped that during their involvement in the restorative justice system, criminals will learn new life patterns that will induce them to engage in socially desirable economic activities instead of pursuing criminal actions. In this way, they can also benefit the society economically.
The advantage of the restorative justice over the traditional adversarial model is in the active involvement of communities and society at large that makes them more interested in the process and allows for greater input. In the traditional model, “victims and the community must sit idly by and observe the sentence being handed down by the court to an offender” (BPF). Through active involvement in the restoration of justice under restorative justice programs, society can increase the sense of civic duty among its members and create a healthier social environment.
Restorative justice is in many cases a preferable model for the restoration of justice than the conventional adversarial one. The understanding of the nature of crime as it is explained by social learning and labeling theories reveals that its causes are best understood by criminals and addressed with restorative justice. This kind of justice permits the criminal to learn the new patterns of behavior and reject the harmful criminal label that stifles self-improvement. Victims are going to benefit from increased attention to their needs, and the community at large will find itself better coordinated and better positioned to address the needs of the criminal justice system. This shows that restorative justice has a large potential for development indeed.
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