New Directions in Restorative Justice: Issues, Practice, Evaluation
Edited by Elizabeth Elliott and Robert Gordon
Cullompton, UK: Willan Publishing, 2005
Restorative justice, the transformative process of resolving conflicts, has undergone a transformation of its own, from being a “curiosity” to being increasingly accepted as a genuine alternative to the retribution based approaches to conflict resolution. The present book offers a glimpse into this transformation but, more importantly, it provides a grounded assessment of the possible future of this field.
The introduction is a comprehensive description of the book and of each section and chapter. Briefly, the book is divided into four sections, containing fifteen chapters. The first part focuses on youth and restorative justice, with its four chapters providing a great range of topics and illustrative examples, involving youth in such settings as schools and communities.
The second part is dedicated to the relationship between Aboriginal and restorative justice, with most of the chapters highlighting the seminal contribution of the former to the latter. Here are tackled critical topics related to the nature of Aboriginal experience with the justice system and to the ways in which restorative principles point to an improvement in often tortuous interactions between the two. However, to remind us of the importance of being sensitive to the complexity of these interactions, Josephine Savarese makes it quite clear that there are many layers in the relationship between Aboriginal and restorative justice.
The third part focuses exclusively on victims and their central role in restorative justice. The four chapters represent a “tour de force,” engaging as they do with very important and difficult topics that usually fall outside the ground covered by similar books. The topics covered include a variety of victim experiences, from juvenile transgression to elder abuse. In addition, the severity of the crime reported also varies from simple offences to very serious transgressions.
The fourth and final section considers evaluation, which has become a critical issue as restorative justice attempts to claim its rightful place as a mainstream alternative to punishment based justice. The chapters outline a number of evaluation approaches used in different countries, such as Canada, Belgium, and New Zealand.
Overall, the book conveys accurately the current state of affairs regarding the fact that restorative justice has become an area of lively debate and intense research. As is usually the case in domains of inquiry experiencing intensive growth, the variable quality of available information can be unnerving. The present book, however, provides solid information without the unsustainable enthusiasms contained in many similar books. Furthermore, in addition to covering topics that are standard in this area of scholarship, the book explores issues seldom addressed, such as elderly abuse and the role of third party interventions, such as those of insurance companies.
While the book has many positive features, some of which have been outlined here, one of its greatest strengths is the fact that most chapters are rich in detail and nuanced in scope. There is a genuine attempt to inform the reader on complex social processes and to unpack them rather than obscure them. An example is the chapter by Brenda Morrison on the use of restorative justice in schools. In addition to crafting a comprehensive overview of this transformative process at work in the educational setting, she examines interactional factors such as shame management and the major role it can plays in determining the effectiveness of restorative justice interventions. In fact, the heuristics she uses could be considered one of the models to be followed as the field gathers more and more information to explain why restorative justice works. It appears that the answer does not rest solely on the “social,” as many people believe, nor does it reside solely within the “individual,” as others claim; rather, there needs to be a genuine effort to look for the answer in the interactions between the “collective” and the “individual.”
One potential criticism of the volume is that it could have used a concluding chapter which informs the reader about the “New Directions” worth pursuing: a summative chapter, a distilling of sorts, but also one that could offer some synthesis of the work presented by each contributing authors. Apart from this minor criticism, the book measures up well against the increasing number of publications in this field. Its strength lies in the fact that it aims to have many voices heard, which means that many readers will find this book very useful, from those in need of empirically derived data to make a convincing case for restorative justice, to those with concerns about how to integrate this approach with a more punishment based justice system. The book does well to point out the considerable work that remains to be done to overcome the obstacle that prevents restorative justice from becoming even more accepted as a pathway to the resolution of conflicts. In the final analysis, this is an excellent book that provides an in-depth examination of many central topics that would be of help to new as well as seasoned researchers in this important area of inquiry.
ZOPITO A. MARINI