Vol. 12 No. 7 (July 2002) pp. 328-331
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND RESPONSIVE REGULATION by John Braithwaite. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
314 pp. Cloth $45.00. ISBN: 0-19-513639-X.
Reviewed by Anna-Maria Marshall, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.
John Braithwaite's recent book, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND RESPONSIVE REGULATION, is an impressive achievement.
Braithwaite weaves together an exhaustive review of the empirical research on restorative justice programs and
an overview of their theoretical foundations to make a compelling case for expanding the role of such programs
in our criminal justice system. He punctuates his analysis with illustrative examples from restorative justice
conferences and peacemaking circles from around the world. The scope of this book should make it of interest to
scholars who work in the field of criminal justice and would be particularly useful in a graduate class on such
Although the details of restorative justice programs vary, they share some procedural characteristics: they bring
together a victim, an offender, members of their respective circles of families and friends, as well as members
of their larger communities to "resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense" (p.
11, quoting Tony Marshall). Such conferences generally divert offenders from the traditional criminal justice
system and seek less punitive remedies than jail or fines, such as apologies, creative forms of compensating the
victim, and practical plans of action to ensure that the offender does not get into trouble again.
Braithwaite also insists that, for such programs to work, they must contain several procedural protections, such
as prohibiting punishments that are more serious than those that would be available in the criminal justice system.
Although these procedures are important, Braithwaite's conceptualization of restorative justice includes values
that are not currently cultivated in the criminal justice system: "healing rather than hurting, moral learning,
community participation and community caring, respectful dialogue, forgiveness, responsibility, apology, and making
amends" (p. 11). The goal of restorative justice programs, then, is not simply to mete out punishment but
to improve the lives of victims and offenders and to strengthen the communities in which the offenses occurred.
Braithwaite's begins by elaborating a framework for restorative justice programs that builds on his long career
of research-on his own and with others-in such areas as white collar crime and business regulation (e.g., Braithwaite
1984, 1985; Ayres and Braithwaite 1992). In previous work on business regulation, Ayres and Braithwaite proposed
a regulatory pyramid where regulators began with dialogic approaches to corporate offending-talking to offending
corporate officials about the problems they faced in meeting their regulatory obligations and persuading them to
correct infractions. If offenders ignored these opportunities to bring corporations into compliance,
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regulators would then turn to more punitive approaches of deterrence (warnings, civil penalties and criminal penalties)
or incapacitation (license suspension or revocation). Braithwaite argues that the criminal justice system should
follow a similar path by using punitive sanctions only when restorative justice has failed. Moreover, he envisions
an expansion of restorative justice into realms beyond the juvenile justice settings in which such conferences
are most prevalent. Rather, he proposes using restorative justice practices to redress all kinds of adult crime,
including violent crime, white collar crime, war crimes, and political crimes.
Braithwaite presents the reader with an extensive synthesis of the empirical work that has been done on the question
of whether restorative justice programs actually "restore and satisfy" victims, offenders, and communities
better than the existing criminal justice system (p. 45). In this analysis, he consults the research evaluating
every significant restorative justice program, it seems, in the world-from juvenile offending in Canberra, Australia
and peacemaking efforts in tribal wars in New Guinea to community justice committees in North Minneapolis, for
example. The studies show that victims who participate in restorative justice practices reported feeling greater
levels of satisfaction than those whose cases were assigned to the traditional criminal justice system. Offenders
also feel that they have been treated more fairly, and there appears to be a modest reduction in recidivism, although
Braithwaite is cautious in making that claim since the research does not yet fully support such a conclusion.
Finally, Braithwaite argues that because they involve community members in analyzing the problem and suggesting
solutions, restorative justice processes can actually create the foundations of stronger communities.
Aside from the overall picture of the outcomes associated with restorative justice, Braithwaite's review of the
empirical literature is breathtaking in his attention to detail, his dissection of the flaws in the research design,
and finally in his candor. As he moves through each of the studies, Braithwaite provides the reader with an overview
of the research design, a frank discussion of its limitations (and he does not exempt his own research from this
treatment). He describes the conclusions of the study that supports his hypotheses about restorative justice,
but he doesn't shy away from describing the findings that don't support those hypotheses. In those cases, he suggests
further avenues for research. In the thoughtfulness and care of this analysis, Braithwaite provides a model for
graduate students who are learning how to critique a piece of research in a thoughtful way or who are in the midst
of designing their own research projects.
After concluding that restorative justice practices are better for victims, offenders, and communities, Braithwaite
situates restorative justice practices in theoretical explanations for crime and punishment, such as rehabilitation,
incapacitation, and deterrence. For example, he argues that in trying to deter crime, traditional punitive approaches
narrowly focus on the person who benefits from the commission of the crime. By administering harsh penalties,
these approaches often backfire because they breed anger and defiance in offenders, which in turn makes them more
likely to engage in additional criminal acts. Restorative justice, however, with its emphasis on healing is less
likely to provoke resentful reactions on the part of offenders. Moreover, conferences and circles can include
a wider range of actors
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beyond the offender, such as families, friends and other members of the community. Thus, the entire group of people
can exert their influence to discourage the offender from committing further crimes. Braithwaite argues that this
more inclusive, "softer" approach could result in greater deterrence.
Braithwaite is not simply interested in improving the criminal justice system. Rather, he imagines that restorative
justice will improve the quality of democracy. He argues that the current system of criminal justice invests enormous
power in the state and its rulers by turning control over punishment to official actors, such as police and prosecutors.
Embracing restorative justice would be a way for communities to take back some of that power. Mindful of the
need to protect offenders from excesses of those communities (by placing limits on the level of punishment and
by observing rights of the accused), Braithwaite argues that participants in restorative justice conferences are
making major decisions that deeply affect the quality of their lives. Moreover, in the context of these conferences,
people learn "how to deliberate respectfully in face of the greatest provocations of daily life." This
active participation is crucial to creating democratic citizens. In addition, Braithwaite envisions expanding
restorative justice and peacemaking circles to international relations by developing restorative practices in diplomacy
and development policies.
Braithwaite also devotes a chapter to responding to the critics of restorative justice programs. These critiques
come both from those concerned the restorative justice will simply re-victimize the victims of crime and from those
who are concerned that restorative justice programs will not sufficiently protect the rights of offenders. Braithwaite
takes seriously each critique, and either refers to empirical evidence to counter the argument or suggests a way
to modify restorative justice programs to fix the problem.
Some who read this book will accuse Braithwaite of naiveté in his complete faith in the ability of restorative
justice to reach hardened criminals. "Mafia bosses..., tobacco executives, and other kinds of drug barons,
serial wife beaters, professional hit men, perhaps even Saddam Hussein can be surprised by being given an opportunity
to put their socially responsible self forward, to be touched by the love of those who care for them most, and
in particular to be touched by the way those they love suffer for the evils they do" (p. 41). Braithwaite
acknowledges he has "a personality that suffers pathological optimism" (p. 137), but his vision of restorative
justice is not to abandon completely the criminal justice system for mafia bosses and drug barons and wife beaters,
but to hold it in reserve until restorative justice practices fail.
In addition, retributivists will find little to satisfy them in this book because Braithwaite rejects retribution
as a value worth protecting in restorative justice programs. Although he acknowledges that a desire for vengeance
may be completely natural, he argues "retribution is in the same category as greed or gluttony; biologically
they once helped us to flourish, but today they are corrosive of human health and relationships" (p. 16).
Given that retribution thrives in our current criminal justice system, casting it out in this way may make it
difficult to pursue restorative justice as a practical matter in the United States. (One of Braithwaite's colleagues
presented some of his research on restorative justice programs to a classroom of undergraduates
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in my Criminology course last year. After fielding their questions, he said to me, "They're really interested
in revenge, aren't they?")
Beyond his expansive analysis of restorative justice, Braithwaite's book also provides us with a model of how
to engage in social science. He asks big, challenging questions. His research is grounded in a variety of theoretical
traditions-criminological theory, democratic theory, international relations, to name a few. He has designed or
helped design sophisticated research projects that collect quantitative data used to test hypotheses, yet he also
understands the limits of those research designs and appreciates the value of qualitative methods. He takes his
critics' arguments against restorative justice seriously, and offers measured, thoughtful responses that usually
invoke the need to do more research. Finally, he is not afraid of admitting that the evidence does not support
his hopes, and he returns to the drawing board. Also, he demonstrates this breadth of knowledge and scientific
integrity with a writing style that will make readers feel as though they are having a chat with one of the world's
leading experts in restorative justice over a leisurely cup of coffee. That alone makes this book essential reading
for anyone interested in the criminal justice system and its alternatives.
Ayres, Ian and John Braithwaite. 1992. RESPONSIVE REGULATION: TRANSCENDING THE DEREGULATION DEBATE. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Braithwaite, John. 1984. CORPORATE CRIME IN THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
-------. 1985. TO PUNISH OR PERSUADE: ENFORCEMENT OF COAL MINE SAFETY. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Copyright 2002 by the author, Anna-Maria Marshall.