In practice, is restorative justice an alternative to punishment or a punishment in its own right?

Question 2 “‘It was a set thing, the way I conceived it, if I didn’t come down here it would go further basically so it was in my interest to come down here and just sort of cooperate.” (a young offender who had attended a restorative conference)

In practice, is restorative justice an alternative to punishment or a punishment in its own right? Essential reading for this question: the four reports (and paper) by Joanna Shapland and colleagues, which you’ll find on Moodle in the ‘Background reading’ folder. The reports and papers by Goold, Hoyle, Wilcox and Young are older but will also be useful. There are three main ways that you could answer this question.

First, you can look at all the different roles that RJ actually plays in the system – all the different points in the process where people have fitted RJ in, or tried to fit it in. (My paper may be useful here.) RJ can be a diversion (a substitute for a charge); it can accompany a caution; it can be carried out before sentencing, as part of the process of taking pre-sentence reports (e.g. from social workers); it can be a sentence in itself, or part of a sentence, or added on to a sentence. Some of these can be seen as alternatives to punishment, or ways of making punishments lighter; others are simply added on (e.g. one-to-one RJ in prison), and may in effect make the main punishment more severe.


Second, you could look at the way that RJ is experienced – do people going through it think that they’re

(a) being punished

(b) getting off without being punished or

(c) something else? There are some fascinating first-person accounts in the research, the Shapland reports and the ones from Thames Valley in particular.

Third, you could have a think about the issues involved, take a position on whether RJ should be an alternative to punishment or a punishment in its own right, and then see whether the research data supports your conclusion. This would mean thinking about questions like: if RJ doesn’t stigmatise offenders, does that mean it’s an alternative to punishment? And if so, is that a good thing – or should some offenders be stigmatised? Alternatively, should we see RJ as a form of punishment, because it makes the offender feel rotten? Think how you would fill in the blanks in these statements: Restorative justice can be a non-punitive alternative to punishment when it has these features: ________________________________. A non-punitive alternative to punishment can be a good idea because ________________. A non-punitive alternative to punishment is not a good idea when ________________. Restorative justice is a form of punishment in its own right when it has these features: ________________________________. It’s good for restorative justice to be seen as a punishment because ________________. It’s a bad idea to see restorative justice as a punishment because ________________

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