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This essay will explore the concept of Restorative Justice and
whether or not it is effective within the criminal justice system. The essay
will begin by observing the positive feedback and support that the process has
gained within criminal justice systems before turning to the concerns of
critics and participants over the potentially harmful impact it can have and
the loss of due process it advocates for. Ultimately, this essay would argue
that, as it is outlined today, Restorative Justice does not in fact ‘work’ as a
self-sufficient procedure.


            Restorative Justice
is a form of alternative conflict resolution which has developed into an
international movement focused on changing the way criminal justice systems
handle matters with concern to the victim and community needs (McLaughlin and
Muncie, 2013). Crowther (2007) describes the movement as “an attempt to repair
the damage caused by offenders by bringing them into contact with their
victims”. Restorative Justice works in favour of using human contact to
initiate a level of shame within an offender, rather than punish them, while
also providing a mutual understanding and settlement between the perpetrator
and the victim. Marshall (1998) described it as a process that included all
parties involved in an act, direct or indirect, collectively resolving the harm
that has been done, seeing crime as harm to a party, rather than solely an
illegal action (Drake, Muncie and Westmarland, 2010). Understanding whether or
not it works requires observations of visible success and empirical evidence to
support the claim. For a measure to ‘work’ there must be clear function and

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            While there is a
great deal of controversy surrounding the practicality and policies within the
umbrella term of ‘Restorative Justice’, academic and empirical evidence have
highlighted the positive impact it has achieved. As Bradford (2011) points out,
victims have long been left out of the criminal justice process and there is a
strong calling for them to be given a voice and a say. The process of
Restorative Justice gives victims this opportunity and its success has been
substantial enough to earn the solid support of organisations like the United
Nations and the Council of Europe (Drake, Muncie and Westmarland, 2010). Sherman
and Strang (2007) discuss some of the most notable studies indicating success
of Restorative Justice measures, including the findings of the RISE project
that the commonness of arrests of white people under 30 years old who were put
through Restorative Justice procedures was reduced by 84% more than in the
control group. Similarly, a government run study, made up of randomised regulated
tests, from which 85% of victims were reported their satisfaction with the
process and the frequency of reoffending was found to have dropped by 27%
(Newburn, 2017). These studies and their optimistic results can be used to
justify the idea that Restorative Justice does work. As a process that revolves
around serving the victims’ needs and preventing reoffending by keeping the
offenders integrated in society, these statistics would support that
Restorative Justice is effective at fulfilling its aims and, therefore, ‘works’
(Marshall, 1998). McLaughlin and Muncie (2013) affirm that around half of all
meetings manage, to some extent, to rectify the harm done to the victims, which
also aids the argument that Restorative Justice works, as it directly highlights
a positive impact for the victims, who are at the centre of the reason for the


Following the publishing of reports such as the Restorative Justice
Consortium’s (2006) overview of more than 45 studies, which clearly indicate a
direct correlation between restorative intervention and a reduction in
reoffending rates, many supporters of Restorative Justice would use this point
to argue that the measure does ‘work’. However, as contended by Case et al.

(2017), there is a perceived uncertainty surrounding the fundamental principles
and aims of ‘alternative’ criminal justice practices, such as Restorative
Justice. This leads to an operational concern over the loss of due process
(McLaughlin and Muncie, 2013). Critics such as Gelsthorpe and Morris (2002)
found that professionals extract reparations under duress, in order to speed up
the process and therefore end up having a limited restorative effect as the
victims, offenders and families never gain control over their own situation.

Keeping this in mind, Newburn (2017) suggests that campaigners for Restorative
Justice can be “uncritical and short-sighted when it comes to limitations or
shortcomings of Restorative Justice”, prompting the critical analysis or
acceptance of the statistics showing great success of the process.

Crawford and Newburn (2003) observe studies of the application of
the process through the Referral Orders and voice concern that, although they
were well received by the professionals, there was difficulty in implementing
their use while still upholding the values. This would imply the failure of
Restorative Justice as its core values are considered to be quietly sacrificed
in order to coerce apologies and settlements (Case et al., 2017, and Crawford
and Newburn, 2013). Such a coercive nature of the process can be detrimental
and, as critics such as Lacey (2012) have pointed out, leads to concerns about
restoration being another form of punishment. With the heavily controlling role
a facilitator can take, there is often room left for an offender to be blamed
and berated and can be left feeling as though the exchange serves to abuse
them, rather than allowing for mutual appreciation (Maruna et al., 2007). It
appears the primary goals of Restorative Justice, in particular those focusing
on the victim, are being weakened by an ambition to use the method to reduce
recidivism, which Robinson and Shapland (2008) argue is an impractical
objective for the process.


It can be concluded that there are beneficial factors to the
application of Restorative Justice, as it can be seen from the empirical
evidence of the multiple studies showing its impact on the reduction in the
rates of reoffending. However, as an approach that is supposedly working
towards benefitting the victims’ states of mind and the restoration of
offenders without punishment and incarceration, it appears the initial goals of
the theory are being neglected. I agree with Garland’s (2001) thought, that
Restorative Justice should be allowed to function along the borders of criminal
justice systems, without being granted too much leeway or power. The empirical
evidence proves that the process is capable of part of its mission, but needs
to improve to properly support the victims. As it stands today, I believe the
Restorative Justice is effective but not enough to actually be working in the way
that it should and as such, with consideration for its fundamental principles,
it cannot overall be considered a concept that ‘works’.

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