The only constant thing in our lives is change. Although I cope with changes quite well, this passing year has been by far the most transformative year in my entire life. It has been a year filled with smaller and bigger revolutions; all of them eventually brought me home where everything beautifully falls into place. Part of this 2017 transformation has been my personal understanding of the criminological theory that is close to my heart and became the point of departure for my doctoral studies.
Restorative justice gained worldwide attention due to the perceived and hotly criticised deficiencies and failures of conventional justice systems. The purpose of restorative justice is to bring positive changes and create certain space outside the court system for encounters to take place between all affected by the crime – victims, offenders, and/or their respective communities. Restorative justice has been seen as a new way of thinking about crime, justice and punishment that is motivated by a variety of impulses, mostly including healing and reconciliation with victims playing an active role.
Those restorative encounters aim at transforming and transmuting emotional energies that surround the conflict (crime) and repairing harm. In theory, the concept of restorative justice is something of a lighthouse that emits such a delightful justice light and casts a shadow over mostly punitive conventional justice solutions. When it comes to practice, it always reflects theory to a different degree. The introduction of restorative justice varied in different societies and this is mainly due to the extent to which the theory resonates with society’s cultural preconditions. In other words, the practice of restorative justice is like a mirror which reflects the aspirations and experiences of those who practice and write about it in a given context.
One may think that restorative justice is a tender-hearted theory that actually creates a space for offenders to get away with punishment and for victims to become subjects to secondary victimisation. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
Although a debate over the relationship between punishment and restorative justice has developed, many restorative justice scholars still see little connection between the two and avoid addressing the notions of ‘painful consequences’, ‘hardship’ or ‘infliction of pain’ within the restorative justice scholarship. Contrary to common beliefs, restorative justice is not a soft justice solution. As a matter of fact restorative justice is, in my view, an incredibly powerful and very painful justice process.
Just imagine the following. The intention of a restorative meeting is to shed people’s ego and strip them away from their victim/offender identities so they can cut those toxic crime cords and move on. Offenders sometimes become quite disconnected from their actions and as a result unaware of the consequences of committing a crime. So restorative justice is not only about activating that awareness, breaking the offenders’ denial techniques, but also empowering and reintegrating them into society. Yes – restorative justice is also about empowering offenders as they are human beings too.
Restorative encounters are the type of meetings in which emotions run high and in which one can find a sacred space for apologies and forgiveness. However, there is more to the belief that restorative justice contributes to the empowerment of victims who are left ‘unheard and out of account’ in traditional criminal justice. Restorative encounters aim at grounding the victim, making him/her face their emotions, telling their truth, and finally getting rid of the victim label. Yes – restorative justice is also about overcoming the victim mentality.
Let me reassure you again – restorative meetings do bring hardship. More than any punitive souls ever dreamed of. The more serious the case is, the more emotional triggers need to be worked through.
No gain without pain.
I do not know a single criminologist who would not like to see a change in offenders’ behaviours or in the justice system in general, and restorative justice is the place where the real change can take place. Restorative justice brings ‘restorative’ pain – this is the type of pain that is welcomed and justified, it is a natural by-product of a restorative practice that aims to cleanse, restore, construct, repair and reintegrate (see Gavrielides, 2016).
Having researched the concept for years now I came to understand restorative justice as a spiritual theory that is being implemented and developed in human conditions. Restorative justice is about awakening the criminal justice system to its restorative potential, and last but not least, it is about raising the vibration of the entire justice system.
Gavrielides, T. (2016) Restorative Pain: A New Vision of Punishment, in: T. Gavrielides & V. Artinopoulou (eds.) Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy. London: Routledge.