….critics have rightly pointed out that restorative justice practices such as victim offender conferencing are liable to duplicate the fallacy of the legal system. That is, they may take behaviors and situations that have roots in social/economic structures – including racism, classism, poverty and the resulting shame – and treat them as conflicts and wrongs purely between individuals. At best, then, restorative practices may amount to a band-aid on the injuries in our society. At worst, it may be helping society to maintain unjust structures.
To practitioners and advocates of restorative justice, the interpersonal dimension – often ignored by the legal approach – is vitally important but we need to find ways to increase our awareness of these other realities and to incorporate them into practice. (CJP graduate Dave Dyck, in Contemporary Justice Review, has laid suggestions for including this in the training of practitioners. I will add this reference after the holiday.)
Can we go even further? Can restorative justice become what some have called transformative justice, providing a way to raise awareness of and address larger social injustices? Should it? If so, how do we proceed? Can it be done within current practices or are new approaches required? These are issues that need further discussion in the restorative justice field.
I highly recommend Zimbardoâ€™s book, and not only for those interested in prisons or justice. It is a sobering picture of how our lives are shaped, especially but not only in extreme situations. If we are to avoid succumbing to these forces and even to rise above them, the kind of awareness this book offers is important for all of us.
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