Back to RJ Archive

Book Review: Restorative justice: From theory to practice, Holly Ventura Miller, ed.

June 26, 2009

Reviewed by Martin Wright.

Restorative justice:  from theory to practice.  Holly Ventura Miller, ed.  Bingley, UK:  Emerald group Publishing, 2008. 
280 pp.  ISBN 978-0-7623-1455-3.  price £57.99

One way to pin down the elusive nature of restorative justice is to identify the agendas of different parts of the movement, and Gerry Johnstone, from the UK, lists some of the principal ones.  Starting as a new, social response to crime, it has led to a new conception of crime and justice, which is concerned with the violation of individuals at least as much as of the state and its laws.  From this it has spread to restorative processes in other settings, especially, schools.  A separate strand has been to show that after (inter)national conflict, retributive ‘justice’ can be an obstacle to social and political reconciliation.  Finally, its advocates are beginning to reach towards an ideal of transforming societies and everyday lives by countering structural violence with ‘transformative’ or ‘healing’ justice.  This analysis should be useful in structuring the debate about where the movement is heading, though not all strands are covered in this volume.  It points towards Wendy Drewery’s definition of the essence of restorative practice, as one in which people meet together to decide what should happen next, rather than have a decision imposed on them (quoted by Jennings et al. on p. 173);  it might be desirable to add that the process and outcome should not be punitive but respect the needs of all concerned. 

Kathleen Daly focuses on the need for equal treatment, especially for women and minority groups, and stresses the need for ‘appropriate services or programs that would benefit an offender in a particular community post-sentence’ (p. 12).  Gabrielle Maxwell also points to the need to accommodate cultural differences, and other important issues for the development of restorative justice, including the location of its management, which she recommends should be in an independent public sector organization.  Legislation should include a statement of restorative values (as in New Zealand but not always in other countries), and should ensure regular referrals not limited to less serious cases.  Maxwell suggests that involvement of the community should be limited to persons with a direct connection to the case.  Those concerned about re-offending should remember that it is affected by other factors besides the restorative conference.  But above all restorative values should be preserved, including respect, working towards reconciliation and healing, and participation of all those affected.

Two interesting chapters refer to Northern Ireland.  Graham Ellison and Peter Shirlaw trace the way in which punishment beatings and shootings have been largely replaced, in both communities, by community-based restorative justice.  One reason was that they saw that reduced violence would open the door to more political recognition (HAMAS in Gaza might reflect on this.)  Anna Eriksson studied over 1000 cases and interviewed a range of participants;  she concludes that with the frustration of basic human needs a culture of violence had grown up, aggravated by harassment from security forces and punishment beatings by paramilitaries.  These, like many punishments, were regarded as an occupational hazard or a badge of honour.  They are being challenged by a combination of restorative values, a flexible process and the participation of former combatants;  the risk is that restorative justice will remain ‘trapped within Western rational thought’ (p. 235, quoted from Zehr and Toews). 

Two chapters deal with schools.  Paul McCold uses elaborate methodology to show that a longer stay in a restorative programme (which he unfortunately describes as ‘dosage’ of treatment) produces beneficial results.  Wesley Jennings and colleagues report a promising experiment in a public (state) school in Denver, but after only one year;  it will be interesting to see how this progresses.

The 21 youth courts in South Carolina, described by Holly Ventura Miller, are supposed to educate young people by giving them authority, but are more severe than normal courts and had no significant effect on recidivism:  perhaps hardly surprising, since the model appears to be based on conventional authoritarian values, not restorative ones.  Peer juries, which are more restorative in that they include an element of community involvement, did reduce recidivism, but it is not clear how they included key restorative values such as victim-offender dialogue. 

An interesting dimension is introduced by Ronald Akers and colleagues, studying faith-based mentoring and restorative justice.  This is not the effect of faith on the young subjects of the programme – mentors are trained not to raise questions of faith, though they can respond if asked.  Rather it is the effect of faith-based values on the mentors, as role models;  they are more likely to be committed and stay longer in a mentoring relationship, which gives better results (cf McCold’s findings).  More volunteers are needed, however.  It appears that the emphasis is on the ethical values than the supernatural aspects of faiths.  Most of the volunteers are Christian, but there are some Jewish and Muslim ones.

The important question of white collar criminality is tackled by Nicole Leeper Piquero and colleagues.  They propose that the emphasis should be on compliance rather than deterrence, in line with Macrory’s work on better regulation in the United Kingdom (which they do not cite).  If as they suggest restorative measures are used in addition to punishment, the latter should not impede the former.  The authors rightly suggest that there should be forums in which victims could tell those responsible the effects of their losses.  The Enron scandal is mentioned;  other examples would have been welcome, such as the refusal of the Dow Chemical Corporation to accept responsibility for the continued suffering of the people of Bhopal after the chemical disaster there. 

The book ends with reflections on accountability by J Mitchell Miller and colleagues.  They warn that restorative justice could be merely a ’plausible alternative to addressing serious and persistent social problems’ (p. 265)

Despite some weaknesses (no contributors from continental Europe, for example on the involvement of the community in Scandinavian countries;  occasional lapses into jargon;  and a rather perfunctory subject index), this book contains some interesting material which deserves further study.


Blog PostConceptual IssuesDefinition of RJLimitations of RJPolicePrisonsRetributionRJ in SchoolsRJ OfficeStatutes and Legislation
Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now