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Emotional Dynamics in Restorative Conferences

Harris, Nathan
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) Theoretical Criminology. 8(2): 191-210.

This paper proposes some hypotheses relevant to the emotional and relational dynamics of restorative conferencing. It first identifies the various emotions involved and their importance in the processes of communicating disapproval, as well as the impact they may have on the process of restoration. Reintegrative shaming theory compares social responses to crime, such as restorative conferences, on two dimensions, i.e., the degree to which they communicate disapproval of an offense and the degree to which they are able to do this reintegratively. A critique of reintegrative shaming theory is that it places too much emphasis on the emotion of shame. A number of scholars have argued that remorse may be a more constructive emotion in triggering reparative responses. Research has shown that, among other variables, not being made to feel bad about oneself during the conference and feelings of remorse, as measured through offender self-reports, predicted lower recidivism. The remorse measure, although somewhat imprecise, shares much with conceptions of guilt as an emotion. Remorse, however, extends beyond guilt to include feelings of sorrow and compassion for the victim, along with the desire to act in such a way as to repair the harm that has been caused. This paper argues that the emotions of remorse, guilt, and empathy may become contaminated by and/or precipitate feelings of shame that will damage self-esteem and thus the offender’s confidence that he/she can do better and act to remedy the harm caused by the offense. Facilitators of restorative conferences must carefully observe and analyze the emotions and communications expressed to ensure that they are resolved in ways that strengthen the offender’s resolve to change harmful behavior and engage in reparative and positive behaviors. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


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