....Susan acknowledges value in restorative justice programs but sees them as affecting a tiny minority of victims.  Her words long ago have stuck with me:  “I’ll believe restorative justice is victim-centered when it’s available whether or not an offender is identified, whether or not the offender acknowledges responsibility.”  So if I correctly understand her recent comments to me (while sharing the biggest piece of carrot cake either of us had ever faced), she sees a place for restorative justice as an option but, in her words to me, “not every victim can take advantage of it, and even for those who do, it has limited – very important, but limited – value.”

This is true if we see restorative justice as primarily victim-offender encounter programs. However, my preference is to view restorative justice as something much broader and deeper:  as an overall philosophy of justice.

It may well be that even restorative justice would require parallel systems.  However, to be coherent as an overall system of justice, there must be a unifying concept and set of principles guiding both sides.  The criminal justice concept, with its focus on lawbreaking and providing “deserved” sanctions, cannot adequately incorporate the victim side.  With that approach we are forever stuck between the “crime control” and “due process” polices (See “Three justice orientations” blog entry).  Restorative justice, however, could provide a way out of this dichotomy, guiding both tracks.  It need not be limited to the rungs or pathways between the two sides of the ladder.

From a restorative justice perspective, justice should essentially focus on repairing harm, preferring inclusive and collaborative processes to adversarial ones.  If justice would emphasize repairing harm, then, victims would play an integral role; their voices would be heard, they would be given options, their needs would be taken into account.  Although I know there can be great value in various forms of victim offender encounter, I am increasingly convinced that the ultimate importance of restorative justice is as this overall philosophy, not specific practices.

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