Having spent the past couple of years working on Psychology films we’ve decided to turn our efforts towards a new volume of crime videos – a follow-up to “Shortcuts to Crime and Deviance Volume 1” imaginatively called “Volume 2”. We burnt the candle at both ends to come up with that corker.
Anyway, one of the scripts I’m currently working on (Labelling Theory) includes the work of John Braithwaite and it struck me that one aspect of crime prevention that tends to get crowded-out of textbook discussions amidst all the talk about zero-tolerance policing, target-hardening and a general “war on crime” is his notion of restorative justice.
This is something of a shame, not only because it offers a way out of the seemingly endless “retribution cycle” of offending – punishment – reoffending but also because it’s a useful (and somewhat rare) example of a broadly social constructionist approach to crime prevention that can be used by students as a counterweight to the variety of prevention strategies that focus, to varying degrees, on an acceptance of crime and a strategy of “making crime more difficult”.
If you’re not familiar with his work the basic principles involve:
Justice should involve “healing rather than hurting”:
This means avoiding the kind of retributive criminal justice system, characteristic of countries like America and Britain, based on confrontation, stigma (negative labelling) and degradation. This type of system combines high levels of extended imprisonment with few attempts at rehabilitation and high levels of recidivism (reoffending after release from prison). Lea and Young (1986) argue prison should be used to contain those who are a danger to the community. As in the Norwegian system, prison life should be as “normal” as possible to minimise the known problems of readjustment offenders face when reintegrating into the community.
Those affected by a crime take an active role in addressing that crime. This means that both victims and offenders need to discuss the harms caused by the latter’s behaviour, with the main objective being reintegrate shaming; offenders need to be ashamed of the harms caused by their behaviour, but the objective of this shaming is not punishment, per se, but rather reintegrating offenders back into the community in ways that make further offending unlikely (the main crime prevention aspect of restorative justice). The focus of the criminal justice system should be on restorative justice – making offenders give something back to the community and their victims, through things like community service orders. Retributive justice sets offenders apart from the community by stigmatising their behaviour and making it difficult to reintegrate them into “normal” community life – a major factor in high levels of recidivism (the rate in Norway, for comparison, is around 15% – 20%). Restorative justice, on the other hand, offers offenders a way back into normal community life by restoring the “moral bond with the community”.
A secondary role for law professionals as facilitators of this process. Conventional legal processes give a primary role to legal professionals, such as lawyers and judges, and a secondary or peripheral role to offenders and victims. Restorative justice reverses this role.
Shifts responsibility for addressing crime to citizens rather than courts. This reflects the idea that all citizens have an interest and part to play in the maintenance of social order.
Key writer: John Braithwaite (1989) – in this 20 minute film he outlines the basic ideas involved in restorative justice:
Cross cultural analysis: reveals that crime is lower where collective interests predominate over individual interests e.g. Norway takes a less confrontational approach to crime and incorporates a range of ideas into their criminal justice system based on Braithwaite’s concept of restorative justice.
Practical implication: to establish mechanisms where offenders are subject to collective pressures that shame them.
Practice of restorative justice: an alternative to the British judicial system which is focused on:
- the offender and
- punishment and exclusion.
Restorative justice is about trying to restore the balance of a situation disrupted by crime:
- victims are given a more central role in the judicial process.
- offenders are held responsible for their actions and asked to make good the harm caused.
- the act is shamed but attempts made to reintegrate the offender.
Questions for student discussion on Reintegrative shaming:
a. Would this work in Britain?
b. Students could also be given roles and re-enact a restorative justice meeting. Other students could then assess what theories or ideas from the sociology of crime and deviance might be applied to help explain this process.
c. They can also discuss its possible benefits and drawbacks and limitations e.g. Does it:
- Widen the criminal net by bringing relatively trivial social deviations into the justice system?
- Leave wider social power imbalances that contribute to criminality untouched?
- Fail to address structural inequalities, such as poverty and deprivation, that make certain people more likely to be offenders than others?