Gaining support for restorative justice entails a broad-based public education campaign. Given the law and order political rhetoric pervading the media today, restorative justice advocates have a daunting task to overcome the political resistance to change. Therefore, restorative justice advocates must engage the public directly.
Developing a credible and diverse coalition for restorative justice requires advocates to draw in leaders in the victims' rights movement, offender-advocates, law enforcement officials, politicians (from both liberal and conservative ideologies), and other opinion makers. Restorative justice is attractive to political conservatives, with their emphasis on personal accountability and limited government intervention, as well as to political liberals with their emphasis on community-building and restoration of injured parties.
Pursuing strategic goals involves identifying particular restorative practices and principles that will ultimately cause the system to better reflect a restorative justice vision. Four examples are:
- provide restorative programmes that allow victims and offenders the opportunity to encounter one another and reconcile;
- make reparation a sentencing priority for nondangerous offenders, with community-based sentences instead of prison;
- assure victims of reparation for the primary harms resulting from the crime, and give them standing to participate in the criminal justice process to ensure that their harms are addressed; and
- provide services to both victims and offenders to assist them in the process of reintegration.
Evaluation of restorative programmes is important to maintain a consistent vision of purpose but also to convince the public of their successes. Future commitments to a comprehensive restorative justice system may be based upon the practical outcomes of existing programmes. Goals must be carefully delineated and implementation must be deliberate and monitored, re-evaluated and improved upon to establish the legitimacy of a restorative response to crime.
Revisiting the vision regularly maintains adherence to restorative principles, helping to ward off the distorting influence that the traditional system steeped in its tradition may exert on restorative programmes. This entails re-affirming programme goals and directives in light of the guiding principles of restorative justice.
Realigning vision and practice involves adjusting programme practice to maintain the restorative vision. If practice fails to affirm restorative principles, the restorative vision has not been maintained in practice. These programmes would no longer pursue restorative justice.
Staying connected with other restorative justice advocates helps avoid isolation that can lead to frustration and unwise compromises. To remain vital and influential, proponents must expand their numbers and correspond, restorative justice proponents of the movement can then stimulate and challenge one another, refining the goals and principles of restorative justice. To the extent that the "movement" diversifies and grows its support base, restorative justice will refrain from being "insulated and marginalized."
Taking obstacles seriously means recognizing potential barriers to restorative practice and taking steps to overcome them. Restorative justice advocates will encounter many obstacles, among them: unsolved crimes; social, economic and political inequalities in society; and adverse political forces. However, given its ability to encourage community cooperation and involvement, it has the potential to increase the number of crimes reported, prosecuted, and ultimately, resolved. Moreover, its focus on restoring damaged lives has the potential to equip and uplift those often inequitably treated--poor, minority victims and offenders. Finally, restorative justice proponents face an uphill battle in changing a system that will resist change, for many of the reasons explained earlier in this web-page. But, given its trans-ideological attractiveness to policymakers, restorative justice provides a reasonable alternative to the "law and order" approach touted in the media today.
Working towards transformation reminds us that new programmes alone are not sufficient. In the end, restorative justice requires:
- transformation of perspective;
- transformation of structures;
- transformation of persons.
This is what Zehr meant when he wrote that restorative justice is a paradigm shift in justice. It requires a change in the way in which we view crime, and a re-evaluation of our responses to it. This transformation of perspective entails risk, however. It requires creativity, drawing on examples of those who have broken from the conventional pattern of responding to crime, using innovative approaches instead. Studying historically and culturally different models of handling crime can help stimulate transformation, as can setting aside assumptions that justice processes must fundamentally be adversarial. All of these postulates can inform and facilitate transformation of perspective.
Perhaps most importantly, restorative justice pursues a transformation of persons. It seeks to heal the damaged lives left in the wake of crime. It empowers the victim, offender, and the community to take part in the resolution of the conflict that is crime.
This document prepared by Christopher Bright. Copyright by Prison Fellowship International.