Restorative Justice

This would be a review of the Grove Booklet Restorative Justice if I believed in reviews. Oh wait, bother, I do. Right. Then this would definitely be a review of the Grove Booklet Restorative Justice if only I had the emotional detachment to write a review. Do you need emotional detachment to write a review? Probably that’s a bad thing actually. So scratch all that. This is a semi-review of the Grove Booklet “Restorative Justice” with more probably more ranting than reviewing.

Restorative Justice Booklet Cover

The discussion about the content of this essay out of the way, let’s look at the content of the booklet. The problem outlined is this: Young people from tougher backgrounds don’t like to keep rules. They actually like breaking them. This is for all sorts of reasons but essentially breaking the rules has become something they do, so they may as well do it with aplomb, and just banning them doesn’t work, because they’re always banned. Banning is the norm. On top of that, revenge is seen as a good and righteous thing, whereas forgiveness is for the weak. So conventional justice with it’s emphasis on crime and punishment just isn’t, on its own, working. 

This, as I see it, is an accurate critique. But accurate critiques are easy, anyone with a passing knowledge of anything can do an accurate critique after a few beers. The trick is doing something with the accurate critique, not just letting it kinda stand there for everyone to stare at it1. Full respect to the authors then, that they do set out to do something with this problem.

And so, to combat this problem enters the idea of Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is defined as something like, ‘all the parties with a stake in the conflict or offence come together to decide collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the conflict or offence and its implications for the future’. The point being made is that unlike some youth work and justice approaches, Restorative Justice allows for reconciliation and forgiveness while not being light on the fact that someone has done wrong (necessarily). Young people are brought together with all the various injured people and everyone explains why they think the actions of the young person were wrong and why they should ask for forgiveness, hopefully shaming them into realising their guilt when they can ask for forgiveness and then . Shame is a big deal in the process, it’s the process by which people realise that what they’ve done wrong is wrong, as opposed to the old system which gets them to feel the wrong by punishing them for it.

And you know what, all this theory isn’t that bad. I fully expected to loath this booklet, because I thought it would be hippy clap-trap, telling us that young people don’t do wrong, they just do things that might not be accepted by the group and all we need do is talk about it until we work something out and then when we all see eye-to-eye we can all go off and drink decaf tea and make daisy chains, but not from real daisy’s because that would be mean to environment, and no I don’t see anything wrong with making people feel guilty about picking flowers but not about picking fights. But actually, the process isn’t like that at all, it’s actually quite hot on saying “hey this is wrong” which is important. I guess you could run this process without that aspect if you wanted to by forbidding people to assign moral values to their statements (and people do, at least from people’s explanations to me of the “no blame” system that seems to be frequently used in schools), but the authors don’t say that’s how it should be done.

I’m just going to gloss over the chapter that tries to provide a theological basis for restorative justice.

So, switching entirely from a review of the booklet (which I was never too good at anyway) to a review of the process, is it a good idea or not? I reckon so. The way I see it is this, discipline and justice inside a youth club are primarily evangelistic tools. You’re telling people about the coming judgement on their sin in a tangible manner. The problem is that people don’t often feel the weight of their sin just as we don’t often feel the weight of our sin when people talk about our sins. They’re just being banned (or whatever) which as mentioned above isn’t much punishment. If we use people to help show the shame of what they have done so they feel the weight of their sins more, great. After all, one of the first thing that happens in conversion —or rather that happens before conversion— is the weight of their sin and the shame of their sin hits upon people, and so they cry out to God. God causes them to realise their guilt and the shame that comes with that is great. So if you can teach to your young people, that as well as being punished for their sin, they should feel a shame for sin and realise how badly it affects other people, it’s only going to help your evangelism.

Of course, the obvious challenge to all this is how to put it into practice. It’s easy to write accurate critique, it’s setting out to do something about it that’s the challenge.

1 Tangentially not at all thought-through observation; this is why most MA dissertations are rubbish. They go “hey, here’s what’s wrong with the current state of play” and then they prove it. People like to moan, they generally notice when something is wrong, so it almost certainly doesn’t need proving, what it needs is for someone to say “hey good point, how about we do this instead”.