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Restorative Justice: The Real Story

Daly, Kathleen
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) Punishment and Society. 4: 55-79. Reprinted in Restorative Justice. Declan Roche (2003), ed. Pp. 85-109. The International Library of Essays in Law & Legal Theory, Second Series. Aldershot, Hants, England: Dartmouth/Ashgate.

Advocates’ claims about restorative justice contain four myths: (1) restorative justice is the opposite of retributive justice, (2) restorative justice uses indigenous justice practices and was the dominant form of pre-modern justice, (3) restorative justice is a ‘care’ (or feminine) response to crime in comparison to a ‘justice’ (or masculine) response, and (4) restorative justice can be expected to produce major changes in people. Drawing from research on conferencing in Australia and New Zealand, I show that the ‘real story’ of restorative justice differs greatly from advocates’ mythical true story. Despite what advocates say, there are connections between retribution and restoration (or reparation), restorative justice should not be considered a pre-modern and feminine justice, strong stories of repair and goodwill are uncommon, and the raw material for restorativeness between victims and offenders may be in short supply. Following Engel, myth refers to a true story; its truth deals with ‘origins, with birth, with beginnings…with how something came to be’ (1993: 791-2, emphasis in original). Origin stories, in turn, ‘encode a set of oppositions’ (1993: 822) such that when telling a true story, speakers transcend adversity. By comparing advocates’ true story of restorative justice with the real story, I offer a critical and sympathetic reading of advocates’ efforts to move the idea forward. I end by reflecting on whether the political future of restorative justice is better secured by telling the mythical true story or the real story. Author’s abstract.


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