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And justice for all: Restorative justice is better for everyone

Aug 05, 2010

from Melissa McAvoy's entry on suite101.com:

....The most extreme form of punishment in Australia under the liberal-democratic system is imprisonment. Unfortunately, as stated by Mildon in Prison Ineffective in Reducing Crime  it is also one of the most ineffective andover-used. The liberal-democratic system is formalised, lengthy, complicated and expensive. Whilst these drawbacks could be justified if the liberal-democratic system was indeed adept at reducing the crime rate, this is unfortunately not the case, also noted by Mildon, with very high recidivism in particular a less than desirable feature.

Restorative justice takes a different approach and is based on the premise of righting a wrong and rehabilitating as opposed to mere punishment. White & Perrone state that it is currently only really used for youth offences as a way of diverting young people away from the liberal-democratic criminal justice system via youth conferencing.

The restorative justice system is far less formal, less lengthy, less complicated and less expensive than the liberal-democratic system. As a result of imprisonment being truly treated as a last resort, offenders can more easily re-assimilate within the community which leads to far lower recidivism rates and thus, an overall reduction in crime. Rather than being passive, almost spectators of the system, victims are highly active within the process which ensures greater chance of their needs being met.

....Fairness for a victim is an often publicised and controversial issue within criminal justice. While the liberal-democratic system ensures victim rights, Anderson argues victim needs are often overlooked. Victims of crime also experience very long waits for resolution in addition to a lack of communication and information in terms of the progress of the case. This can leave a victim feeling more like a spectator than a participant in the criminal justice process.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, emphasises victim needs strongly as noted by Wemmers. There is a much shorter wait for a resolution, very high levels of communication and information and the victim is an active participant in the justice process. Further, the victim actually has some say in the offender's punishment as a measure to restore the situation.

In terms of fairness to offender, White & Perrone state that the liberal-democratic system does place great emphasis on offender rights, ensuring they are upheld through due process. However, due to the significant amount of discretion allowed within the criminal justice system, there are numerous potentials for abuse despite these rules of due process. Offenders also experience long waiting times before their case is heard because of the many cases going through the criminal justice system every day, during which time some offenders are held in remand rather than being bailed. Further, legal representation can be extremely expensive and can even prevent an accused offender from having a competent defence.

By contrast, the restorative justice system would move much faster than the liberal-democratic, thus shortening waiting times for a resolution and reducing time spent in remand.

Read the whole entry.

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