Restorative Justice: A theoretical analysis

Published: Friday, March 22nd, 2024


This is a blog by Evgenia Apostolou, a 1st year PhD Criminology researcher and PGR Academic Representative at Lancaster University. This blog explores how the categories of victimisation and its social approaches connect to Restorative Justice.  

 

Restorative Justice is a global pioneer in the fields of criminology and victimology, placing people and their wellbeing at its centre. The conventional approach of the Criminal Justice System to deal with crime by punishing the offender, as it has been shown, does not always lead to justice or accountability. At this point comes Restorative Justice to provide a solution to the seemingly dead-end problem. Reconciliation between perpetrator and victim is one of the main goals of Restorative Justice. The assumption of responsibility by the perpetrator for the harm they caused to the victim is also a key starting point to the restorative process.

But what do we mean by the term “victimology”? Mendelsohn, who is considered the “father of victimology,” defines it as “the science that studies the personality of the victim in its environment, so that it can be analysed from a biological, physiological and social point of view. Its ultimate purpose is to prevent the victim from becoming a perpetrator and to prevent the creation of new victims. To do this, criminology must determine the common factors of various categories of victims, find the reasons why they become victims and neutralise them.”

The relationship between crime and victim is inextricably linked. Edwin Sutherland, in his work “Criminology,” argued that all people are directly or indirectly victims of criminal acts, so every person is a victim of crime. When human rights are violated, we are also talking about a criminal act. And yet the Criminal Justice System does not always prioritise victims and their needs. Often, the process is carried out in the interest of public order and not in the interest of the victim. Using an extreme example, in cases such as genocides, there is more than one criminal act. When the media forces the survivors, through statements and interviews, to relive the events they experienced, retrieving traumatic events from their memory, they are essentially criminalising the victims. When the survivors go to court an additional victimisation may occur, due to the mishandling of the judicial bodies, which ignore the psychological state of the survivor-victims.

Restorative Justice is linked with the categories of victimisation and its social approaches. Listing the forms of victimisation can help us to identify this link. The categories of victimisation are as follows: Primary Victimisation is defined as the first interaction between perpetrator and victim and results in direct or indirect physical, mental, financial and moral damage. Secondary Victimisation is the result of the victim’s interactions with third parties, including law enforcement or even mental health service providers. In this type of victimisation, many of the professionals who should be providing support to the victims do not deal with the incidents in an appropriate way. In the end, the victim is not only traumatised by the perpetrator but also by society.

Social inequalities, discrimination, poverty, and corruption can also intensify individual and collective victimisation. At the same time, the issue of collective memory in the face of crimes against humanity highlights the social dimension of crime.

Given the many different types of victimisation, and the social element of crime and conflict, it’s clear that we need an approach that is mindful to the needs of the individuals and communities who are most affected. Putting victims’ needs at the heart of the process makes Restorative Justice a powerful intervention that can transform the lives of people affected by crime.

 

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