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Reducing Recidivism: A Task for Restorative Justice?

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 48 Issue: 3 Dated: May 2008 Pages: 337-358
Gwen Robinson; Joanna Shapland
Date Published
May 2008
22 pages
Drawing on the authors' experience as evaluators of three restorative justice schemes in England and Wales funded under the Home Office's Crime Reduction Program, this paper reflects on the theoretical and empirical potential of restorative justice (particularly conferencing) to achieve reductions in reoffending by participating offenders.
The authors note that advocates of restorative justice have not touted a theoretical or empirical basis for its reducing reoffending by participating offenders. Bazemore and O'Brien advised that "no one should expect dramatic rehabilitative impacts from short-term conferencing encounters" (Bazemore and O'Brien, 2002). Hudson (2003) argues that "crime reduction is not the ground on which restorative justice should be selling itself." Although the authors of the current article agree with these perspectives, they also argue that a case can be made for a subtle shift in ways of thinking about the recidivism-reduction potential of restorative justice. They advocate reframing restorative justice as an opportunity to facilitate an offender's desire or consolidate a decision to desist. Desistance, by definition, implies crime reduction. Agencies that have crime reduction as their primary aim might find it helpful to view restorative justice as a key tool. Since restorative justice encounters are entered into voluntarily by offenders, there is a likelihood that at least some will use the opportunity to reinforce a decision to desist from crime. For such offenders, the opportunity to express feelings of shame/guilt/remorse is likely to be more significant than exposure to "shaming" by others. A reduction in recidivism should always be viewed as a goal within the context of other legitimate goals for restorative justice, notably victim-centered goals. In holding offenders accountable for the harm done to their victims, rehabilitative features of reparation should be considered, such as the development of vocational and financial-management skills. 81 references