Restorative justice as an approach to justice that seeks to repair the harm done by the offense rather than punishment or incarceration. It emphasizes the offender’s accountability, his or her, as well as the victim’s, involvement in the community. Furthermore, this approach seeks to rehabilitate and reintegrate the offender through assistance with mental health and substance abuse issues, education and job training. Although restorative justice, as represented by the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court promises several benefits, its long-term effectiveness and compatibility with the traditional justice system are questionable.
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The restorative justice approach’s fundamental principle is holding the offender accountable to not only the state and society at large, but to his or her victim, while also assisting his or her rehabilitation. This suggests that its positive effect can be especially significant for younger and first-time offenders. First, as an adolescent offender’s moral values might still be developing, therefore, an opportunity to witness the consequences of his or her actions on others can benefit this development.
Second, the North Lawndale Community Court promises first-time offenders a chance to recover through their education and job training assistance, which can help reduce their chances of recidivism. Third, the same system might help them avoid the traditional court system and, therefore, the collateral punishment of being stigmatized as a criminal. Taken together, these factors can significantly improve the offender’s outcomes.
The system’s focus on the local community rather than the more general state or society can be another benefit for an offender’s chances of reintegration. Rossner & Bruce (2016) point out that the community involvement in the restorative justice process plays a significant role in its outcomes. By involving specific individuals and empowering them to guide decisions for the offender’s rehabilitation, it can make decisions that are more appropriate and effective for the offender than those provided by the traditional justice system. Ultimately, these decisions can help the offender reintegrate with the community, reducing his or her chances of repeat offenses.
While the restorative justice approach in general can be greatly beneficial to both the victim of a crime and the perpetrator, it has its issues and challenges. A significant issue that will likely prevent its wide adoptance is its assumption that all parties are acting in good faith. That the offender is genuinely seeking forgiveness and rehabilitation, and that the victim is willing to accept it. If the first assumption fails, a criminal can receive a punishment that can be viewed as insufficiently harsh and, therefore, fail as a deterrent of further criminal behavior.
If the victim is unwilling to cooperate, regardless of his or her reasoning, arranging a meeting and agreement that are required for the system to work is impossible. This critical shortcoming limits the utility of restorative justice to less serious offenses that are more likely to be viewed as reconcilable.
The second issue with restorative justice in general is its interaction with the traditional court system. Specifically, it depends entirely on the offender’s admission of his or her guilt. Normally, one’s innocence or guilt is established through court proceedings, where the defendant is expected to deny his or her guilt to avoid corrective measures. This principle conflicts with the primary premise of restorative justice and its assumption that the offender is repentant and seeking reconciliation. This conflict presents a challenge in utilizing this approach in complex or serious cases where the defendant’s guilt is uncertain.
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However, the principles of restorative justice currently lack any mechanisms intended to investigate crimes and obtain evidence required to prove that the suspect is guilty (Wood & Suzuki, 2016). Because if this dependence, the approach is dependent on the mechanisms of the traditional judicial system, which further limits its utility in most cases.
Discussion and Conclusion
Overall, restorative justice is a promising approach to criminal intervention that brings significant benefits in the cases where it can be applied. Because of its focus on holding the perpetrator personally accountable to the victim and the opportunity to see the harmful effects of his or her actions, it has the potential to help one’s ethical development. However, this would be most apparent on younger or first-time offenders, who would also benefit most from the rehabilitative measures the approach utilizes. Furthermore, it having one does the Restorative Justice Community Court handle case rather than the traditional court system can help avoid stigmatization as a criminal and the collateral punishments it brings. This is true even if the traditional justice system has to be utilized to gather evidence and establish guilt.
However, the limitations related to the scope and applicability of restorative justice measures outlined above suggest that these benefits can only be gained in certain cases. The North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court acknowledges these limitations by imposing limits to eligibility based on the offender’s age and nonviolent nature of the felony or misdemeanor. Based on this, it can be expected that the court will see moderate success in cases involving young, first-time offenders, but fail to bring about significant change in other cases.
Rossner, M., & Bruce, J. (2016). Community Participation in Restorative Justice: Rituals, Reintegration, and Quasi-Professionalization. Victims & Offenders, 11(1), 107-125. Web.
Wood, W. R., & Suzuki, M. (2016). Four Challenges in the Future of Restorative Justice. Victims & Offenders, 11(1), 149-172. Web.