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Politics of Restorative Justice

Any institution must have political support or it will erode or disappear. This is certainly true for restorative justice. But is there an influence in the other direction -- can restorative principles and values help shape political discourse?

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Politics and Forgiveness
As Jean Bethke Elshtain recalls for us, Hannah Arendt asserted that forgiveness was the greatest contribution Jesus of Nazareth made to politics. In recent years, public acts of contrition by political figures, seeking forgiveness, have become almost faddish. The question Elshtain raises is how to distinguish between serious, meaningful acts of public or political forgiveness and instances of 'contrition chic.' She distinguishes this inquiry from questions about the authenticity of individual acts of contrition and forgiveness. While they can be genuine and powerful, such as when Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin, they are not usually political acts. The question is whether there are forms of authentic political forgiveness. Reflecting on contexts such as the Holocaust, Northern Ireland, slavery, and South Africa, she explores several significant issues, including the political nature of forgiveness, the parties to forgiveness, the public dimension of political forgiveness, remembrance, and political restorative justice.
Philpott, Daniel. The Politics of Past Evil: Religion, Reconciliation, and the Dilemmas of Transitional Justice
What unfolds in the following pages, then, is a conversation about how theology and politics are related in the theory and practice of reconciliation, situated in the context of transitional states. What place does reconciliation have in the politics of transition? What are the warrants for it? Four theorists, two theologians and two philosophers draw explicitly from theological perspectives in answering these questions. The answers are fresh angles in today’s debate. Our conversation, though, also recognizes that reconciliation’s credibility as an approach to politics depends not only on a theoretical foundation but also on an account of its place in the tug and haul of actual political transition. Two political scientists and a historian, all sympathetic to the theological perspectives, then chart the path of reconciliation, sometimes torturous, sometimes propitious, in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Argentina, and Germany. The divide between the two sorts of inquiry is not neat. The theorists are cognizant of contemporary political transitions; the empirically oriented scholars are theoretically conscious. Explicating theological warrants, mapping the texture of actual political transitions, echoing debates within these transitions, our conversation addresses a wide variety of interlocutors, both scholarly and generalist, both with and without theological commitments. (excerpt)
Put, Johan and Vanfraechem, Inge and Walgrave, Lode. Restorative dimensions in Belgian youth justice.
The revised Belgian Youth Justice Act (YJA) (2006) is featured as a case study due to the important restorative justice dimensions that it has introduced. The legal system in Belgium is dominated by a civil law regime with a deep-seated tradition in youth justice characterized by an almost exclusively ‘treatment’-oriented approach. Whilst the implementation of the revised YJA has encountered some challenges, it has also revealed that it is possible to prioritize restorative processes within a conventional civil law regime. That being said, the fundamental change that the Act aspired to achieve is only made possible by the application of additional measures. (author's abstract)
Federal prison-overhaul plan dismissed as amateur, alarming
from Janice Tibbetts' article at canada.com: Canada's blueprint for overhauling federal prisons is an amateur and "alarming" document that ignores human rights, gives the false impression that crime is rising, and provides no costs for flawed policies that would flood penitentiaries with more inmates, says a new report. The study attacks the Harper government for its speedy, wholesale adoption of the 2007 Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety that made more than 100 recommendations, based largely on the premise that prisoners don't have automatic rights; they earn them.
Anti-crime bills deserved to die in Canada
from the comment by Elizabeth Woods in Times Colonist: The editorial on prorogation (Jan. 5) mentions that among the bills that died with this parliamentary session were many parts of "Harper's tough on crime agenda." This is the one good result of prorogation as these bills contained very bad criminal law. Stephen Harper is not "tough on crime"-- he is soft in the head on crime, preferring to build more prisons -- the most expensive, least effective form of influencing behaviour -- instead of investing in preventive measures, such as early childhood care and education, and the alleviation of poverty.
Tough on crime but short on logic
from Carol Goar's column in the Toronto Star: Promises beget price tags. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has revealed very little about the cost of the crime crackdown his government has begun and plans to extend in this session of Parliament. The Department of Public Safety has estimates of the growth of the prison population but the minister, Peter Van Loan, refuses to make them public, citing cabinet confidentiality. The government has projections of the cost of imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, meting out longer jail terms and beefing up police forces. But it hasn't made them public. Even in secrecy-obsessed Ottawa, however, some information gets out. This month, Correctional Service Canada released its spending estimates for the coming fiscal year. They showed a 43 per cent increase in capital expenditures on penitentiaries. In 2010-11, the government expects to spend $329.4 million on prison infrastructure. Last year's jail-building budget was $230.8 million. To put these numbers in perspective, Correctional Service Canada spent $88.5 million on prison construction when Harper took office four years ago.
Zeal to punish eliminates a useful tool
from Emile Therien's op-ed in the Toronto Star: ....The “conditional sentence of imprisonment” (CSI) was introduced in Canada in 1996 as an alternate form of incarceration subject to specific criteria. It is not, as some assume, the same as probation. When sentenced to less than two years, an offender deemed not to pose a danger to society is allowed to remain in the community, but with more stringent conditions than offenders on parole. The offender must abide by a number of typically punitive conditions, such as a strict curfew. If a condition is broken without a lawful excuse, the offender may serve out the rest of the sentence in prison. Unfortunately, conditional sentences for the type of offence Tobin committed — impaired driving causing death — were eliminated in the last session of Parliament, thus ending Canada’s tradition of granting discretion and independence to the judiciary. The accident last Christmas Eve that killed his friend Alex Zolpis can only be described as “tragic and senseless.” But giving Jack Tobin a prison sentence may well also prove to be “tragic and senseless,” as there is mounting evidence that jail time does not reduce the chances of re-offending.
Alberta solicitor general to fight for restorative justice
from the article at CBC News: Alberta's solicitor general is vowing to fight to restore funding for restorative justice programs in the face of mounting criticism from his party and a retired chief justice. "I will fight to restore it," Frank Oberle told CBC News. "I'm going to fight to restore the grant money next year." Oberle said he was forced to eliminate the $350,000 grant for the program to reach budget targets. His department is responsible for jails in Alberta and most of his budget is taken up by salaries where there is no room to cut.
Legislation introducing restorative justice for victims of adult offenders in England and Wales announced
from Lizzie Nelson: New legislation for restorative justice with adult offenders and their victims will be introduced through an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill. The new clauses will allow the Courts to defer at the pre-sentence stage in order for the victim and offender to be offered restorative justice at the earliest opportunity. This comes as part of the Government’s response to the Punishment and Reform; effective community sentences consultation, published today.
Justice Reinvestment
Fascinating report! This is going to take some serious work at a time when people feel angry and betrayed by governance and systems of justice. [...]
Justice Reinvestment
While the Summit was not specifically about restorative justice, the presenters and many who attended are knowledgeable advocates of restorative practices and restorative justice. The [...]
Cutting crime: The case for justice reinvestment
The British House of Common Justice Committee has recently released a report on the reinvestment of justice resources aimed at reducing crime. The following is excerpted from the Executive Summary: We decided to undertake an inquiry into “justice reinvestment”, because of three linked issues. First, the criminal justice system is a complex network of agencies with substantial public funding operating under increasing pressure but the different parts of the system do not seem to be pursuing the same goals or making cogent contributions to an agreed overarching purpose. Secondly, the Government’s main answer to the current overcrowding of prisons and the predicted rise in the prison population—already at a record high—is to provide more prison places rather than to seek to address the root causes of this seemingly incessant growth. These causes include: a toxic cocktail of sensationalised or inaccurate reporting of difficult cases by the media; relatively punitive overall public opinion (compared to much of the EU); a self-defeating over-politicisation of criminal justice policy since the late 1980s and the responsiveness to all these factors of the sentencing framework and sentencers. Thirdly, it is clear that authorities and agencies outside the criminal justice system—with relevant objectives, remits and funding—could take more effective action to reduce both the number of people entering the criminal justice system in the first place and the likelihood of re-entry after serving a sentence. So questions arise as to whether the existing allocation of attention, energy and funding is the right one. “Justice reinvestment” approaches—which channel resources on a geographically-targeted basis to reduce the crimes which bring people into the criminal justice system and into prison in particular—offer potential solutions to these challenges.
Smart on crime: Why reforming criminal justice is now a Conservative issue
from the article in The Edonomist: ....It is not only in Britain that criminal-justice reform has become a right-wing issue. The Right on Crime initiative, a creation of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think-tank, counts leading Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush among the fans of its campaign to divert more offenders from prisons to non-custodial sentences. Half of all American states voted to reduce the use of custody last year. There is plenty of room for relaxation in punitive America, which locks up almost one in 100 people (England and Wales put away fewer than one in 500). But similar forces are at work in both places. Fiscal pressure is mounting. Overall crime rates are falling. And stubborn reoffending rates suggest that some things are not working. Prisons are one of them.
RJ ,policing and Big Society
Very encouraging speech by the Honourable MP! Big society may also be taking in other culture not only in the UK. Even in UK there [...]
Restorative justice, policing and the Big Society
from the speech by The Rt Hon Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice in England: There has been much talk about restorative justice. We’ve seen encouraging pilots and there’s talk about it not only in this country, but around the world. So why is it that something that offers such encouraging results should not have taken a greater hold in our system? Well, I think it is because we’ve seen evolving over the last few years a criminal justice system that has been very much directed from the centre. We’ve been through the recent era of targets and what has eloquently been described as ‘deliverology’. The idea of managing from the centre, of close direction in order to try and drive up the performance of public services. This was done for benign reasons, but we all know what the consequences were.
Victim Support chief addresses restorative justice conference
from the organization's website: Victim Support describes itself as "the independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales. We were set up 35 years ago and have grown to become the oldest and largest victims' organisation in the world. Every year, we contact over 1.5 million people after a crime to offer our help." Speaking at the Restorative Justice Approaches conference on Thursday 27 January, Javed [Khan] said: “We have for many years supported restorative justice projects up and down the country. We know that one of the greatest benefits of restorative justice is to victims of crime and that satisfaction rates among victims are particularly high when it is victim led.” Welcoming the government’s commitments to restorative justice he added: “I want to make sure that these are more than just warm words and that restorative justice becomes a right for every victim who wants it.”
victims support restorative justice
Thank you for this post. It is always very encouraging to hear of what is going on around the globe as victims are experiencing the [...]
Johnson, David T.. Crime and punishment in contemporary Japan.
Although many people believe that Japanese crime rates have increased rapidly, they have not. Japan's homicide rates are the lowest in the world and are lower than at any time since World War II. An apparent increase in robbery rates results primarily from changes in police reporting practices. Except for bicycle theft, theft rates are the lowest in the industrialized world and lower than fifteen years ago. Nonetheless, Japan's penal policy has become more severe and less focused on rehabilitation. The contexts and causes of this get-tough shift include a greater sense of public insecurity, economic and social disruption, increased anxieties about foreigners, politicians' emphasis on law and order, and a series of police scandals and notorious crimes. It appears that the long-held "safety myth" about Japanese society is collapsing like a house of cards. (Japan Times, December 10, 2005) Since When Are Water and Safety in Japan No Longer Free? (Title of Motohiko Izawa's [2002] book) (Authors Abstract).
Koval, Roman. ‘Involving policy makers’’ (in commemoration of Janina Waluk)
The Ukrainian Centre for Common Ground has been trying to work with policy-makers in such a way that the objectives of the policy-makers are achieved without compromising the values of restorative justice since 2003. The author suggests that the guiding principle in dealing with authorities is the principle of love as social philosopher Eric Fromm describes it: respect, understanding, care, and responsibility. Janina Waluk, former president of the Polish Centre for Mediation, lived this principle.
More cautionary news from the US
United States public officials are reconsidering sentencing policies, driven by the increasingly high cost implications of current laws and practices. Mandatory sentencing laws, including Three Strikes legislation adopted in a number of states, take discretion away from judges and require prison sentences (often quite lengthy) be served.

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