Vol. 14 No. 4 (April 2004), pp.271-274

REPOSITIONING RESTORATIVE JUSTICE, by Lode Walgrave (ed.). Devon, UK: Willan Publishing, 2003.  416 pp.  Hardback 50.00  $64.95.   ISBN: 1-84392-017-4.  Paper 28.50  $39.95  ISBN: 1-84392-016-6.

Reviewed by Larry L. Tifft, Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Social Work, Central Michigan University. E-mail:  tifft1ll@cmich.edu

Restorative justice has increasingly become a significant theme in public policy and program implementation debates in both juvenile and criminal justice reform all over the world.   Such policies and programs resonate with many different publics and officials as a more effective way to increase citizen safety and civility, and dialogically include victims in our responses to harm.  While meeting victims’ needs for healing and restoration, these processes also aim to personalize the need for offenders to accept responsibility for their harmful actions, help them define their needs, and offer them reasonable reintegration opportunities.  These processes are also organized both to decrease the rate of individual recidivism and promote constructive preventive social change, so as to decrease the prevalence of harmful interpersonal conflict.    

REPOSITIONING RESTORATIVE JUSTICE is a collection of revised keynote speeches and papers that were presented at the 5th international conference organized by the International Network for Research on Restorative Justice for Juveniles, held at Leuven, Belgium, in 2001.  It is the second book published from this conference.  The first volume, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND THE LAW, presented other keynote speeches, producing a coherent commentary on the relationship between law and restorative justice.  REPOSITIONING RESTORATIVE JUSTICE is composed of four sections.  The first, “Discussing the Principles of Restorative Justice,” explores the essentials, especially as these compare and contrast with the principles of retributive justice, or the punishment paradigm.  The second, “Evaluating the Scope of Restorative Practices,” examines research on the effectiveness of restorative justice programs, especially mediation and conferencing.  Section three, “Extending the Scope of Restorative Approaches,” presents research on a number of creative programs and innovations that expand the scope of traditional restorative justice inquiries.  And, the fourth section, “Positioning Restorative Justice in Several Countries,” describes how various nations have attempted to include restorative processes in their practices and legislation. 

In their lively theoretical essays, Martin Wright, Jolien Willemsens, and Anne Lemonne question and explore the meanings of punishment, whether intentional punishment is ethical, and whether restorative interventions do or do not constitute punishment.  Among other succinct points, Wright argues that we ought to label sanctions according to intention, eliminate those whose primary intention is to deliver pain, and to maximize voluntary participation in our interventions.  He concludes that in a non-adversarial, non-punitive set of responses to harm, people would speak more freely, and much could be learned about the circumstances which make crime and harm more likely.  Such findings [*272] could then more readily influence social policies directed toward preventing crime and harm. 

Joining the fierce debate among restorative justice advocates, Willemsens sides with those who believe that intended harm (punishment) should have no place in restorative justice policies and programs.  Her argument is that, while it is possible that those who harm might experience restorative processes and sanctions as punitive, these processes are not intended to cause pain and suffering.  Rather, they are organized to be restorative and socially constructive for the person harmed, for the person who has committed the harm, and for society.  For some transgressions we must collectively intervene to communicate that the actions taken are truly unacceptable.  Restorative interventions may be perceived as harms, as punishment.  They may, when integrated into legal criminal justice processes, impose restrictions or even the loss of liberty.  But, they are not intended to stigmatize, shame, and exclude the persons involved in these conflicts.

While discussing the implementation of alternative conflict resolution in Norway and Denmark, Lemonne cautions about the implementation of supplementary mediation and other programs that serve to reinforce and/or legitimate the current retributive, penal system.  She further cautions that restorative justice advocates must recognize and attend the social conditions and structural violence or structural inequalities that constitute the behavioral context for many of those whose actions lead them to be processed.  If restorative processes are simply substituted for the current penal system, we will have guaranteed ourselves that no dent has occurred in the prevalence of crime and injury.  The near exclusive and narrowed restorative process focus on mediation and conferencing, to which most of this and other books are devoted, offers us essentially no venue in which to dialogue and address the systemic conditions of stratification.  One fears that, like retributive processing, restorative justice processing will function to legitimate the unjust stratification and distributive justice arrangements of our societies.

The second section of the book provides four exceptional articles evaluating restorative practices.  Paul McCold assesses thirty years of evaluation research on mediation and conferencing.  His review is exhaustive and comprehensive, giving us a feel for the many difficulties of assessing these programs.  Of interest to me is that the effects of restorative justice on recidivism-an outcome that is generally viewed as secondary-are different for different types of harms.  Restorative processing experiences seem to have a greater impact in lowering recidivism rates with serious, rather than minor offences, personal, rather than property offences, and for offences with a direct victim involved.  The critical variables that make for a successful family group conference are whether the conference was a memorable event, evoked remorse and also led the young person to meet with the victim, apologize, and attempt to make amends.  For those of you interested in the comparative effects of restorative justice (conferencing) to other ways of processing offenders, recidivism rates for offenders is no higher for restorative conferencing than it is for court adjudication.   I would be most interested in reading future research that explores [*273] whether the offenders received support and what kind of support, if any, from their families, kin groups, and others, and if this makes a difference.  I would, as well, be interested in knowing whether the injured parties received increased support and if so, what kind of support from whom, as a result of participating in the project.  What effects do these “follow-up” needs-meeting responses (or not)-have on the participants’ quality of life?

Nathan Harris’ contribution focuses on an assessment of the processes rather than the outcomes of restorative justice programs.  There is relatively little research concerning what processes contribute to making conferences successful and how such a structure might be replicated.  Harris’ innovative research is specific to an assessment of family group conferences and is focused on the degree to which such processes lead to empowerment, restoration, reintegration, and emotional resolution. The reasons for assessment include providing qualitative measures against which restorative interventions can be evaluated.  Rather than measuring whether restorative justice processing is effective, this research measures the degree to which conference processes do, in fact, empower participants, reintegrate offenders and victims, repair the harm caused by the offences, and address emotional issues arising from the initial harm and the restorative dialogic encounter.  It is common for restorative justice advocates to argue that the emotions of victims and offenders are as, or more important, than the facts of the incident or conflict, and are often critical to achieving resolution for both parties.  Focus on the emotional pain caused by an offence and by the restorative encounter itself is supported by research indicating that the more successful conferences are those that involve serious interpersonal violence and that include both the offender and the victim in active interaction.   If these encounters are the most successful for the offender, are they also successful for the victim?

Following this more anthropological or sociological research approach, Gabrielle Maxwell and her colleagues indicate that girls and boys respond quite differently to their family group conference experiences.  In their on-going research, girls, more often than boys, felt that they did not have a real opportunity to say what they wished and were not allowed to place the events behind them.  Girls were also more likely to report that during the conference they felt remorse for their actions.  But, on the other hand, girls were less likely than boys to report that attending their conference had in any way helped them to stop or reduce their offending behavior.  Also taking a sociological approach, Isabelle Delens-Ravier explores juvenile offenders’ perceptions of community service in Belgium.  Her inquiry sheds light on whether community service is perceived as supplementary punishment or a positive opportunity to learn from others.   Research like this encourages us to ask whether community service is truly designed to be perceived as a mutual process wherein community members really engage with those doing the service, or whether it is organized as a public shaming, a coercive experience from which one learns the lesson that serving others and meeting others’ needs is to be avoided. 

In expanding the scope of restorative practices, Valerie Braithwaite and her [*274] colleagues explore how shame acknowledgement and displacement are important predictors of bullying behavior at school.  They conclude that the capacity to manage shame adaptively needs nurturing in school settings and that a restorative intervention program to address bullying can be a healthy alternative to the legalistic approach.  Such programs can strengthen family members’ responsibility for teaching children to acknowledge intentionality rather than displacing it, and to strengthen school social organization so that character development is enhanced rather than stifled. 

The two other articles that I found to be most stimulating and scope enhancing were Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic’s critical assessment of the complexities involved in developing an encompassing restorative justice response to conflict and crime in Serbia and the nations that formerly composed Yugoslavia, and Buyi Mbambo’s and Ann Skelton’s exploration of the South African socio-cultural context, the African philosophy of ubuntu, and the receptivity of the nation for further implementation of restorative programs. The remaining articles provide excellent background to the historical development of restorative justice in Flanders (Belgium), Italy, New Zealand, and Norway, representing both common-law and legalistic nations. 

This is a welcome and provocative set of papers that extends our thinking about restorative justice theoretically and programmatically.  One can only hope that further international conferences organized by the International Network stimulate such excellent work.


Walgrave, Lode (ed.).  2002.  RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND THE LAW.  Devon, UK: Willan Publishing.


Copyright 2004 by the author, Larry L. Tifft