You may – or as is probably more likely, may not – recall a post a while back that outlined some ideas on Braithwaite and Restorative Justice as they relate to crime and criminal behaviour – a fact I mention only because I came across an interesting short video on how a school in Colorado (and no-doubt others in America) have introduced a form of restorative justice as an alternative to the more-traditional forms of punishment generally meted-out in such schools.
While the video’s worth a view (as is a recent Guardian article arguing that the introduction of restorative justice techniques has helped to reduce exclusions) it can also be linked-in to wider sociological ideas about crime, deviance and labelling theory, in the sense that what restorative justice seeks to do is intervene in a relationship at what Lemert termed the secondary deviation stage: at the point where primary deviation (what someone has done) evolves into further deviation through the critical and punitive social reaction of others.
The relationship between labelling and restorative justice is also a useful evaluative one for students because a general criticism of labelling as a theory of crime has been it’s overidentification with the deviant, as opposed to the victim. Restorative justice goes some way towards answering this criticism.
It also addresses a further criticism in that labelling theory is frequently seen as having little or no practical significance in relation to solving “the problem of crime”. Unlike conventional forms of criminology that focus, for example, on practical forms of situational crime prevention, labelling theory is generally seen as having little or nothing to say about crime control. Restorative justice, however, is framed around the long-term management and control of criminal behaviour, rather than short-term criminological fixes (locking people up may, for example, prevent them committing crimes in the short term but imprisonment has serious long-term consequences for repeat-offending (recidivism).
A final couple of points that might be worth pursuing in this context relate, firstly, to the concept of victimology – unlike some forms of victim-participation in the criminal justice system (as witnesses, a makers of statements to the court pre-sentencing and so forth), restorative justice places victims at the centre of the criminal / deviance process.
Secondly, in an American educational context you might also like to note the argument that restorative justice (what’s sometimes called an aspect of peacemaking criminology) can be potentially used to break the so-called schoolhouse-to-jailhouse cycle that has developed in some areas and in some ethnic and lower class social groups (I’ll leave you to guess which these might be…).