The Effects of Restorative Justice Programming:
A Review of the Empirical
The formal, punitive and adversarial nature of the traditional criminal justice system in Canada is clearly changing. The use of cautioning, diversion, alternative measures, mediation, victim impact statements and restitution agreements is arguably impacting the formal process. Outside of the formal system significant increases in the number of restorative justice programs are also having a tremendous impact on the legal environment. We are currently in a period of substantial change. Understanding this ‘movement’ towards an informal and less punitive approach to addressing criminal behaviour, which focuses on consensus decision making rather than an adversarial method, will be important for future policy development. This paper begins the process by identifying appropriate research questions to strengthen our understanding of restorative justice.
It is often argued that new ‘waves’ or paradigms in justice, such as restorative justice, are routinely held to a much higher standard than the traditional system. Pilot programs often need to demonstrate immediate and unrealistic results. A more strategic and long-term approach to research, and consequently funding, would allow for the generation of more comprehensive data. In New Zealand, for example, family-group conferencing has been legislated as a required response to a majority of youth crime since 1989. Ten years later, research is beginning to emerge from that jurisdiction that demonstrates significant reductions in youth offending in some communities (Doolan, 1999). This form of research is not possible in Canada with short-term, initiative-based funding. In fact, a small proportion of the research that was used in this paper originated in Canada. If we are to fully understand the effects of restorative justice on our own criminal justice system, we need to develop a strong Canadian knowledge base on restorative practices.
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