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Community-Based Justice in Northern Ireland and South Africa

NCJ Number
International Criminal Justice Review Volume: 18 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2008 Pages: 83-105
Rachel Monaghan
Date Published
March 2008
23 pages
This article examines the nature and value of informal restorative justice mechanisms that have developed in the Black townships of South Africa and the working-class districts of Northern Ireland.
Restorative justice refers to any scheme designed to deal with crime by meeting the needs of victims, making offenders accountable for their actions and offering them a pathway back into normative community life, and giving communities a sense of ownership and responsibility in dealing with crime in their areas (McEvoy, 1999). This article's descriptions of restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland (the Greater Shankill Alternatives program and republican Community Restorative Justice Scheme) and South Africa (Guguletu Community Forum and the Peace Committees of the Community Peace Program) illustrate the different historical contexts and operational features of community-based mechanisms that qualify as restorative justice mechanisms. Each of the four schemes discussed had the three aforementioned components of restorative justice. In both countries, the programs/projects described are efforts by communities to provide alternatives to existing punitive approaches for dealing with crime. In Northern Ireland, this was the violent system of punitive sanctions perpetrated by paramilitaries, and in South Africa it was vigilantes. The lessons of restorative justice efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland are clear. Restorative justice schemes offer effective mechanisms for resolving nonviolent disputes and petty crimes; however, they cannot be sustained as alternative justice systems that attempt to replace retributive, punitive systems that provide restraints and retribution for violent, noncompliant offenders. The legitimacy of local restorative justice programs comes from the community, which must recognize and believe in the value and methods of restorative justice. Widespread community support for restorative justice mechanisms is difficult to achieve in communities where violent conflict, death, and long-term abusive harms have been inflicted against large numbers of victims. 1 table, 3 figures, 12 notes and 65 references