Restorative Justice, criminology of self or other, a lesson from the process.

To encourage understanding of our work, and to do what I teach, SCVRJP staff meetings include a reading, a reflection and a check-in.

I teach, that agencies or schools that use Circles or Restorative Justice, should parellel the process within the agency.  That would mean using the restorative concepts as part of agency functioning, elements or, or actual Circles as part of meetings.

At a recent staff meeting, a co-workers shared from a book in the SCVRJP library.  I found it interesting, and appreciated the knowledge and concepts.  It made me appreciate that our agency brings these elements to staff meetings.  You never know when you might just get a new way to consider or understand Restorative Justice.

Book: Restorative justice, self-interest and responsible citizenship. Lode Walgrave

Pages: 192-193

Another spin-off of restorative justice for criminology is that the conceptions of crime, criminals and crime-fighting are stripped of their exceptional character. Mainstream criminology is predominantly what Garland (2001) calls a ‘criminology of the other’. Such criminology considers those who commit offenses as another kind of human, intrinsically different from law-abiding citizens; it focuses on particular risk groups, such as immigrants, drug users or youths in deprived neighborhoods, which it presents as threats to the existing social order. The criminology of the other aims to produce theoretical, empirical and practical knowledge that will allow better control of risk groups or render them less harmful for the average citizen. In doing so, this criminology delivers expertise that further excludes and controls the poor and marginalized; it becomes a technology of social exclusion and thus significantly advances dualisation in society.

‘Criminology of the self’ (Garland 2001), on the contrary, considers those who commit crime as normal people. The person who offends is one of us, someone who, because of circumstances, has ended up in a position that caused him to act illegally and to harm others. It could have happened to any citizen. But criminology of the self can ‘normalise’ the criminal in two different ways. It can bring the level down, by regarding all humans as potential criminals. The consequence of such approach is that we all live in mutual distrust to protect ourselves against one another through, for example, situational prevention strategies based on rational choice theories (Felson 1994). In Putnam’s terms, social capital is then drastically degraded, which, as I have described briefly, is disastrous for the quality of social life and for democracy.

A restorative process offering the offender the opportunity to make up the harm caused may be a major help in the offender’s quest for rehabilitation. Basically restorative justice has this normalising approach to all those involved in the aftermath of crime and looks at both the victim and offender as normal, reasonably responsible persons. It presupposes that, in the right conditions, both victim and offender will be prepared to try and find a solution that is acceptable to all parties, including the interests of the larger community and public safety. As seen in previous chapters, this trust is not naïve, but is sufficiently supported by experience and empirical data to justify it as the starting point in considering what should and can be done once an offense occurs.

Felson, M. (1994) Crime and Everyday Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control. Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press