Restorative justice : aspirations of proponents and experiences of participants in family group conferences
Proponents of restorative justice aspire to create a radical alternative to the 'traditional' way of thinking about - and responding to - crime. This thesis will examine many of the key aspirations of restorative justice advocates. It will do so on the basis of critical analysis of restorative justice literature and the evidence collected in the course of an empirical study, which involved interviews with participants in family group conferences. The thesis will ask: - How realistic are the aspirations of restorative justice campaigners? - What happens when restorative justice ideals are pursued in practice? - Can restorative justice, as practised within one restorative justice project, claim the mantle of a victim-centred, lay-oriented, empowering, voluntary justice and present a true alternative to the existing paradigms of justice? - What insights can lay participants in restorative justice interventions bring into the debate about restorative justice? - Are there problems, tensions and dangers - highlighted by this empirical study - inherent in the current development of restorative justice? This thesis will demonstrate the existence of a significant gap between aspirations of proponents and practical realities of restorative justice. It will suggest that this gap is unlikely to be minimised, unless restorative justice advocates radically re-consider and alter the direction in which restorative justice is presently evolving. Some suggestions will be made indicating what could be done to minimise the gap. This thesis will critically analyse some important debates among restorative justice advocates. A particular focus will be on the debate concerning the relationship between restorative justice and the criminal justice system. The implications of the reliance of restorative justice on the state justice system will be examined in the light of empirical data, and it will be argued that the dependence of restorative justice on the criminal justice system is very problematic and needs to be avoided. It will be suggested that some of the present debates concerning the relationship between restorative justice and the state justice system need to be re-focused and new ones need to be opened. In the light of empirical findings and on the basis of theoretical arguments, the thesis will criticise the tendency of certain restorative justice advocates to pre-define the objectives of restorative justice, in particular, make restorative justice operate in the name of reparation of harm. Dangers inherent in restricting the focus and goals of restorative justice will be examined. Through empirical analysis and theoretical reflections, the thesis will identify some other serious dangers and problems inherent in the current development of restorative justice. One major danger is that at present restorative justice may serve to individualise, neutralise and quickly and effectively expunge from the society conflicts with social-structural roots, and thereby prevent a possibility of challenges to social inequalities and injustices. Another major danger is that restorative justice employs its techniques of power to enable the state to govern its subjects at a distance, in a masked fashion, and, consequently, to minimise resistance to the state power and maximise regulatory efficiency. This thesis will suggest radically changing the direction in which restorative justice is developing, which might help avoid some of the present dangers.