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Evidence Based Research in Support of Restorative Justice

I recently had an exchange with a criminal justice professional. He explained that he thought restorative justice was valuable. But then he added that he thought restorative justice was good for low-level offenders but not for offenders considered “high risk.” I said  to him, “Well, that ‘s actually not the case. It’s just the reverse.”  The research is there and we must be aware of it and use the evidence to make our case for restorative justice. It works for all offenders regardless of the offense.
Some of the best research making the case for restorative justice was produced by Dr. Heather Strang and Lawrence Sherman in 2007 called “The Evidence” published by the Smith Institute (London). Sherman is a professor of criminology at Cambridge. Strang directs the Centre for Restorative Justice at the Australian National University.
In the report’s executive summary it states the following: “Restorative justice seems to reduce crime more effectively with more, rather than less, serious crimes.” Their research suggests that restorative justice works with violent crimes more consistently than with property crimes. The report found that restorative justice, in which victims confront their offenders, reduces the frequency of reconviction by an average of 27%. The study included almost 800 cases.
RJI is in strong support of building the case for restorative justice through evidence based research. As we advocate for restorative justice in the public policy arena we must be very aware of evidence that exists. More research must be funded to attest to what we already know. Restorative justice works—not only with low level offenders, often juveniles, but adult offenders who have committed violent offenses. Those of us who advocate for restorative justice must arm ourselves with the facts. And the facts are there in our favor.

  • Peggy
    September 13, 2013

    Having managed an RJ program for 16 years, and in the field for 21 years, I have worked with the young first time offenders, then the more involved juvenile offenders and finally the violent crime, back in the day where kids shooting kids by negligence could still be sentenced to probation rather than incarceration…the benefits of RJ exist for victims and offenders at ALL levels of crime. The kinds of benefits vary depending on the clients’ needs and capacities, the type of program and the policies or regulations that create the protocol for the environment.
    In my experience the recidivism statistics are wonderful for very young defendants. For older teens or young adults, the recidivism I believe varies on the type of crime and other “risk” factors associated with the defendants.
    We first got started doing the violent crime with kids who were playing with guns and negligently shooting their friends. The benefits were huge from a social healing perspective, however the “recidivism” is almost not relevant because most of these defendants are horrified at what their negligence created; these were kids playing with guns they’d grown up with in the home (yes, prior to many of the gun safety laws). The more we were doing the violent crimes, we started working with defendants who were using guns to either bully or keep from being bullied, or were beginning to drive as young drivers. My personal experience is the violent crime RJ work is significantly healing for anyone involved in the process, including facilitators, and support people; and of course the clients. I recently completed my Master degree and did some research trying to define the “magic” of RJ processes in violent crime. I am thrilled there is so much research going on to validate the value of RJ! And my one consistent message is recidivism is NOT the only indicator of RJ value.

    • Jackie
      September 15, 2013

      Peggy, what region are you practicing RJ?

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