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Review: Crime, Punishment, and Restorative Justice: From the Margins to the Mainstream.

February 25, 2013

He challenges the restorative justice (RJ) purist to consider just how punishment (something many cannot tolerate as a possibility with RJ) can fit with a new or reformed restorative version of justice. London adds a new and vital ‘trust’ variable in the discussions of RJ. What he proposes is a blending of approaches, not a totally new invention. He recommends the use of RJ in ALL venues, not just minor cases, state misdemeanor courts, juvenile justice or school discipline matters. A few details may assist potential readers in considering whether or not this scholarly work belongs in their hands, office, or bookshelf.

The author has unique credentials. He is a Judge, or at least was a judge. London went back to the academic world after years as a New Jersey defense attorney, prosecutor, and judge. At some point he realized that one could learn more about the justice arena. Ross London has written this book and a few articles over the past decade. He is now a professor of criminal justice at the New Jersey based Berkeley College. 

He credits Howard Zehr and other writers with starting the RJ ball rolling in 1990 and thereafter. But, to really be accepted RJ must go much further. London dreams of a justice model that can fit or be applied with serious offenses and for more than the first time offender. As the title suggests, RJ must move from the margins to the mainstream. In order to protect the community and to allow a broad application of RJ one must not totally exclude the punishment of offenders. 

In past decades the victim was of little concern except as a witness for the prosecution. The elevated courtroom judge imposed sentence based on guidelines and whim. In the proposed comprehensive RJ model the safety of the community and the wishes and participation of the victim or victims are important. 

A slice of his thinking may be helpful. In some scenarios the offender and victim may agree on a sentence (incapacitation) for a period of time “within sentencing parameters prescribed by law, representing the upper and lower limits of deservedness and public safety.” Also on page 193, “these negotiated recommendations can be regarded as substitutes for the kind of sentence negotiations now routinely conducted by defense attorneys and prosecutors.” The victim, victims or family of a deceased victim, long absent from the process now becomes a factor in the overall sentencing or dispositional planning.  

The victim, the offender, treatment providers, and the community must all be involved in the search for solutions. Without solutions we continue to do little to treat offenders or to properly allow them to be reintegrated into the community. London reviews the need for restitution and for meaningful apology or demonstrated remorse. He maintains that most victims will be a better judge of remorse than a judge in the courtroom. 

In one chapter London offers guidance in devising legislation that includes victim involvement at a far higher level than found today in any North American law codes. He cogently outlines how new process and procedure (new law) can reduce the reliance on punishment in a fashion that provides public safety for a community of potential victims. 

Trust (i.e., the offender regaining trust and reintegration into the society) is the word that serves as the key ingredient needed to reform “what is viewed as a structurally flawed and misdirected system.” Trust is probably the essential word or concept in London’s scheme. Just deserts punishments that follow sentencing guidelines without looking at each case as a unique and individual situation lack the trust element. Trust, he maintains, must be earned and valued as a prerequisite to successful reintegration in the community, with or without brief or even extended loss of freedom.  

At least a rudimentary knowledge and understanding of the current status quo at all levels of criminal justice will be important in order to understand exactly what London proposes. From the Margins to the Mainstream assumes such a level of understanding in order to integrate what is proposed. The book, despite new world thinking, is presented in fairly standard format. Each of the fourteen chapters is sufficiently annotated. The twenty page bibliography will lead any reader to most all RJ writings related to criminal justice. The drafting of suggested legislation, perhaps as a law school student endeavor, for a pilot project or unnamed jurisdiction would be a great sequel to this book.


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