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Review: Child victims and restorative justice: A needs-rights model

Dec 19, 2011

Tall Gal. Child victims and restorative justice: A needs-rights review. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 264 pp.

from the article by Bill Lyons in Law & Politics Review:

....Combining the right to participate from the Convention on the Rights of the Child with an empirical analysis of a child's need to regain control, participation emerges as a critically important need and right for at least three reasons. First, for immediate instrumental reasons, participation is both an immediate coping mechanism and is expected to improve criminal justice outcomes. Second, for longer term developmental reasons, meaningful participation in experiential learning opportunities is a developmental step toward empowering young adults to master the problem solving skills necessary to make democracy both possible and desirable.

Finally, participation is also important for expressive reasons at the individual and community level. Meaningful participation for individual children is an opportunity to express their views in ways that the best available research suggests is likely to assist them in managing their own shame, guilt, fear and self-blaming, even if no exchange of apology for forgiveness is achieved. And for communities, expressing in practice the value of participatory decision making structures is expected to reduce conflicts, strengthen understanding and mastery of conflict management skills, and enhance the legitimacy and utility of more productive alternatives to punishment like restorative justice.

In the strongest and most engaging chapter in the book, Chapter Five, Gal examines the most common restorative justice practices (victim-offender mediation, family group conferencing, and sentencing or healing circles) through this newly integrated analytical lens and argues that, "the values and principles underlying restorative justice... are consistent with the needs-rights of child victims” (p.161). This chapter is filled with some of the most thoughtful and important ideas a reader can take away from this manuscript.

Chapter Five also examines the complexities of a need and right to meaningful participation in restorative justice and concludes that "meaningful participation is not only a way to achieve the desired outcomes, but, even more importantly, a coping mechanism, an opportunity to experience procedural justice, and a way of managing shame and resolving questions of blame and fear” (p.133).

The need and right to meaningful participation is one of the most powerful challenges that the author attempts to help us make sense of in this book. Children have a right and a need to participate, in age appropriate ways and for reasons laid out throughout the first four chapters. But risks associated with revictimization and a direct or implied pressure to forgive return us to the murky waters of adults speaking for child victims as dependents in need of protection rather than rights-bearing agents capable of meaningful participation.

Read the whole review.

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