Justice is the very essence of the traditional criminal justice system. This formal system involves the intervention of the state in remedying socially disapproved behaviors by particular individuals in the society. As such, the process strives to punish the offender accordingly and in so doing ensure that justice is served for both the victim and the offender. However, there has been a growing debate on the use of other alternatives to the criminal justice system.
This has arisen due to various factors such as a growing dissatisfaction on the traditional criminal justice system in its failure to serve the victim’s search for justice. In addition, there are crimes where justice can only emerge using other informal means. It is also crucial to point out that informal forms of justice have been continuously encouraged in today’s society so as to maintain peace and build a forgiving society where virtues and morals can be equally cultivated. Victims of crimes are at the focal point of the very crime itself and the criminal justice system.
Even though the offender is significantly involved in the process, victims are what propel it. They have suffered the most from the offences and at times, going through court proceedings in search for justice may only lead to an aggravation of their hurt. In essence, victims may find restorative justice more appealing and fulfilling than the traditional criminal justice system. This paper seeks evaluate how useful the process of restorative justice can be to victims. More so, it will involve an analysis of the merits and disadvantages of using shaming, peacemaking and other forms of restorative justice.
Restorative justice is an approach used in solving problems in crime by actively engaging concerned parties and the society at large. As such, a crime is framed in such a way that perpetrators and direct victims and the community as a support mechanism are integrated in the justice restoration process. This process is guided by principles which include the observation of crimes within their social contexts, the objective of solving the problem and preventing its future occurrence, creating room for those involved personally and utilizing flexibility in the process.
In the resolution of conflicts using informal means aspects of reconciliation, forgiveness and empathy are brought about. This is attributed to the informal nature of the process which is not present in the traditional justice system. These forms of informal justice which include re-integrative shaming, peacemaking and restorative justice all insist on attending fully to the needs of the victims. Through programs, victims reconcile with their offenders and have their property, injuries, dignity, sense of security and empowerment restored.
According to Strang (p. 20), victims have experienced grave shortcomings with the traditional justice systems and would indeed have preferred direct restitution of the crime by engaging in dialogue with the offenders. This observation brings to light the one aspect of informal justice which victims are looking for and which is rarely present in the traditional justice system. That is, a process which is not only less formal and restrictive but one where their points of view count and where their feelings are also addressed.
Indeed, most victims often feel as if the traditional system barely acknowledges or even grasps the entirety of the crimes committed against them. Following this, an informal set up would indeed allow them to fully relay their grievances. Furthermore, as the victim engages actively in the reconciliation process, there is often a resulting sense of emotional closure and satisfaction. It is also important to note that victims will find satisfaction in meeting the offenders, learning why they committed the crime and letting them know how the crime affected them. As asserted by Karmen (p.
403), in serious crimes where most of the victims feel uncomfortable and dread cross examinations informal justice is an alternative which will be less dreadful for them. Moreover, the speedier, less expensive and even more accessible form of justice will serve them better than the traditional system where court cases can be delayed to the expense of the victim. There is a consistent benefit for victims taking part in these forms of restorative justice as they emerge from the process with less anger, fear, more forgiving and with a strong conviction that justice has been served.
Informal justice is structured in such a way that information is shared amongst the involved parties throughout the process. More often than not, victims engaged in court proceedings find themselves unaware of the exact details of their court cases. In informal justice processes like conferencing programs victims are empowered in their active role as participant in the justice process because they are fully aware of the proceedings. In fact if they wish to dispose off their cases, they are empowered to do so when they see it fit.
For instance in circumstances where victims do not want the offenders arrested or even feel partly responsible for the crimes they can come to a reconciliatory solution which will serve the victims’ needs. Respect and fair treatment are also outcomes which victims seek in the justice system. As such, seeking informal justice systems promises the assurance of these outcomes. This is so because there is a restoration of democracy in the practice of restorative justice. Braithwaite (2007, p. 691) contemplates that informal justice gives back power to ordinary citizens who often feel excluded and incapacitated in the traditional justice system.
When the victim is allowed to have people there for support during the justice deliberations, they are encouraged and strengthened in their capacity as community members. In addition, it is more likely that they will get the sympathy and understanding they may seek as victims. The lack of this form of respect in the traditional criminal justice systems only undermines the capacity for victims to recover from the crimes and may also encourage re-victimization. Indeed, the lack of a conclusive resolution and fair treatment will eventually leave victims feeling more violated.
It is thus vital to provide an avenue where re-victimization is hindered like in the use of informal justice. Shaming is a unique form of punishment which is closely related to restorative justice. It communicates to the offender and the community of the unsocial behavior and its disapproval. Harris (2006, p. 328) postulates that re-integrative shaming can significantly affect the justice process in a positive way. In most cases where offenders are arraigned in court, it is difficult to determine whether they are remorseful or even ashamed of their crimes.
This factor leaves the victims even more perturbed when offenders seek to defend their crimes. Re-integrative shaming which involves the show of disapproval of offenders’ crimes in an environment where there is no labeling or condemnation allows victims to get the empathy and understanding of their hurt from offenders. There are crimes or violations where victims may want the offender to experience the same crime and fully empathize with the victim. Only then do they feel that they can forgive the offender. For instance, bullying in schools is a crime which involves a bully and their victim.
These victims often end up feeling humiliated, unhappy and unable to concentrate in their studies. Ahmed and Braithwaite (2006) highlight that the acknowledgement of shame by the offender increases justice for the victim. In order for the offender to acknowledge this shame and develop feelings of guilt and empathy, they are sometimes encouraged by mediators to take up the victim’s role while the victim plays the offender’s role. The interchange of roles shames the offender and propels them to accept their crimes. Ultimately, the victim heals better when they are able to forgive the offender.
In respect to such serious crimes like sexual offences, shaming can indeed lessen the victim’s pain and also provide some form of personal justice. Victims of sexual offences often feel ashamed and great suffering and are convinced that naming and shaming the offenders will cause them similar suffering. Even though this form of punishment may not measure up to the crime committed it may just appease the victims. Regardless of the above mentioned usefulness of alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system for victims, these alternatives are also accompanied by grave shortcomings for the victims.
It is possible for victims to emerge more fearful after engaging in restorative justice. This is so especially in serious crimes where fear of retaliation is rife if they are handled in court. However, the alternative which involves close deliberations with the offender, other members of the victims’ families and community members may leave the victim afraid of victimization by those involved in the process. This fear only increases the victim’s anxiety and delays their healing and the resolution of the conflict.
Also, there are victims who do not want to be actively involved in the justice process because they feel either threatened or vulnerable. In this case, seeking the traditional criminal justice process which is highly formal and impersonal may be the best option. In the use of informal justice processes, victims may experience disparate treatment due to the presence of power imbalances. The victim and the offender are already on uneven levels which may heighten in the presence of other people involved in the process.
In cases where the victim knows the offender and has a relationship with them, the victim may feel more oppressed during the proceedings when other parties seem to support the offender. Another disadvantage for the victim in engaging in the restorative justice process is that they can be used as a means to rehabilitating offenders. When focus is shifted to the offender who is propelled to accept their crime and seek forgiveness, a victim’s participation may be coerced which may amount to re-victimization.
If victims do not think they will benefit from the process, they should not partake in it. In conclusion, re-integrative shaming, peacemaking and restorative justice are all founded on the principles of propelling empathy, forgiveness, reconciliation and justice for all making them more useful for victims. This is true for victims of crimes who are convinced that the traditional criminal justice system will not offer them what they are seeking. From the above discussion, it is evident that these forms of justice are useful for victims as they fully involve the victims in the process.
Victims just want to be heard and their needs addressed. They want understanding and reconciliation with the offender under their own terms. Informal justice will not only offer this but also assist them in their healing and recovery process. Despite this, it is critical for victims to ensure that their choice of justice process is one which will address their needs and not further victimize them.
- Ahmed, E. , & Braithwaite, V. (2006). Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Shame: Three Key Variables in Reducing Scholl Bullying.Journal of Social Issues, (62) 2, 347-370.
- Braithwaite, J. (2007). “Encourage Restorative Justice. ” Criminology and Public Policy, (6) 4, 689-696.
- Harris, N. (2006). “Reintegrative Shaming, Shame and Criminal Justice. ” Journal of Social Issues, (62)2, 327-346.
- Karmen, A. (2007). Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
- Strang, H. (2002). Repair or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.