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Making Variation a Virtue: Evaluating the Potential and Limits of Restorative Justice (From Restorative Justice in Context: International Practice and Directions, P 23-50, 2003, Elmar G. M. Weitekamp and Hans-Jurgen Kerner, eds. -- See NCJ-201195)

NCJ Number
Kathleen Daly
Date Published
28 pages
This chapter discusses evaluating the potential and limits of restorative justice.
A good measure of the vitality of a new justice idea is the ratio between the claims made by advocates and the evidence to support those claims. The less evidence exists, the greater the excitement and debate about the new idea. When evidence arrives, interest is lost. The South Australia Juvenile Justice (SAJJ) project had 2 waves of data collection in 1998 and 1999. In 1998, 89 youth justice conferences were held during a 12-week period in the metropolitan Adelaide area and in two country towns. For each conference, the police officer and coordinator completed a self-administered survey, and a SAJJ researcher completed a detailed observational instrument of interviewing all the young people/offenders and the primary victim associated with each offense. SAJJ-eligible offenses were personal crimes of violence and property offenses that involved personal victims or community victims. The focus of the interviews in year one was on the offenders’ and victims’ judgements of whether elements of procedural justice and restorativeness were present in the conference. In year two, the focus was in how the passage of time affected these judgements; their attitudes toward each other; whether the conference had an impact; and how the experience affected the victims’ views of young people and the politics of crime control. The resulting data show that the conference process is viewed as fair and conference participants are treated fairly, with respect, and have a say. At the same time, it is relatively harder for victims and offenders to find common ground with each other and to recognize “the other.” For some measures of restorativeness, there appear to be limits on victims’ capacities to see offenders in a positive light and on offenders’ capacities to feel sorry for what they did and to be affected by victims’ accounts of the incident. Variation occurs because there is both potential for and limits on transforming relations between victims and offenders in the aftermath of crime. 5 tables, 4 notes, 10 references