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Can restorative justice become too routine?

March 7, 2010

I’ve thought about this with some cases I’ve
received as a volunteer restorative conferencing facilitator. The
jurisdiction I volunteer in only allows for restorative justice
post-sentence. I’ve written before about the issues and questions
involved in ordering a restorative process as a part of the sentence.
These include the lack of voluntariness, lack of options for victims,
etc. But also, I think “restorative justice” can become routine, another
box to tick off in terms of service such as ordering anger management
and substance abuse screening.

I’ve wondered this as I talked with defendants who denied guilt although they had either been found or plead guilty. I’m not talking about defendants who deny that their actions caused harm (this can actually be dealt with in conference) but defendants that say that they didn’t commit the crime. Yet, there is an expectation on the part of the courts and some restorative justice advocates that these individuals will go through a restorative process with their victims.

Obviously, there are a couple of problems with this. First, there is a lack of voluntariness for defendants. Secondly, for a restorative process, the defendant or offender must accept responsibility for the actions. The process can’t move forward when this person claims complete innocence. Granted, this scenario is different from the case I mentioned above where the defendant is also a “grieving victim.” But, I wonder if both of these don’t point to a possible trap. I’m not sure but here are the questions that I’ve been pondering:

  1. Can we become so accustomed to cases going to restorative justice that we send referrals without keeping values in mind?
  2. Can a restorative process become just another “punishment” inflicted on the defendant along with other services such as anger management, counseling, and substance abuse treatment?
  3. At what point are we setting up a scenario that uses victims to impose a sanction on an offender?

I know others have written about the dangers of restorative justice being co-opted for purposes of the criminal justice system. I’m just wondering if that can become more of a danger when the restorative process becomes part of the sentence or simply another step in the sentencing process.  


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