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Less prison, better prevention of crime

February 14, 2012

The benefits of restorative justice for the victim are even greater. These include reduced post traumatic stress symptoms and diminished fear, anger, hurt and vengefulness. The victims also report heightened satisfaction that they have experienced a meaningful form of justice. This is not to say it always works; we still have much to do to unravel contexts where restorative justice backfires.

We continue to invest in basic research on what makes an innovation like restorative justice tick. ANU researcher Nathan Harris has shown that when criminal offenders experience remorse in restorative justice they come to the conclusion the people they love the most disapprove of what they have done and want them to change. Disapproval of their act is communicated while proving how much they love them as a person, their respect and support for them. Even perceived disapproval by others who the offender likes quite a lot makes no difference. Harris hates it when I call this his ‘all you need is love result’.

Anti-bullying programs in schools are another area where research has shown the path to a less violent society. As with Harris’ work, Eliza Ahmed has shown that shame acknowledgement and reintegrative shaming in families reduces the incidence of both being a bully and being a victim of bullying in schools and workplaces. An effect size three times higher was the experience of forgiveness in families. Children and adults who have learnt, in their home lives, to forgive and be forgiven are much less likely to become bullies. An age-old biblical teaching you might say. Yet in the West, we have become cynical about forgiveness, afraid to consider its benefits for victims and criminals. We surely must be careful not to demand forgiveness. One reason is that forgiveness only prevents crime, only helps victims, when victims voluntarily choose forgiveness as their gift to the offender.

Our hope is that by being evidence-based on such matters, policymakers can be convinced that excessively tough justice that is expensive to deliver is not as effective as emotionally intelligent justice.

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