The following comments are excerpted from Theo Gavrielides's blog piece, titled "The McDonaldisation of a community-born and community-led ethos: Reflections on the restorative justice week past." These comments were presented  in the context of wrestling with questions of how governments – particularly in light of new policy initiatives to implement more restorative justice for adults in the UK – might avoid the watering down of restorative justice which ultimately belong to communities. The entire piece, which I recommend reading, can be found here.


 

As a believer of individual empowerment and the founder of a charity the promotes community-led solutions for a better society [IARS], my question has always been “How can restorative justice, as a community born ethos, enable the individual to have a genuine role in bringing fairness to society". Following from this, “What is the role of government, academics and practitioners in facilitating this process”; not for their own ends, but for the individual, let that be the "victim", the "offender", their family, friends … and their community.

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Going back to my restorative justice week in Canada, on my way back from Victoria I met a family whose daughter was murdered and had agreed to meet one of the two offenders who had been convicted with the crime. The mother said to me: “Too often people assume that victims want to see their offenders locked in prison, playing video games and learning how to become better criminals. We want accountability, and to understand what happened; we want to see them doing something good”. I also met another victim who suffered from child sexual abuse and violence within gangs. He said: “To all those who hurt me in my childhood, I send them lots of love and I hope they have had at least some of the opportunities to heal that I had … How could I ever forgive myself without seeing them as wounded people too”?

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As we were going around the circle, I came to realize that every single person who practised restorative justice had a story to share. A story of pain as a victim or a story of regret as an ex-offender. And this is what makes restorative justice special. It is the community’s way of understanding and dealing with conflict.

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If governments are truly committed to promoting restorative justice, then they need to work closer with the communities that create the various models through which this abstract umbrella notion of restorative justice is delivered … whether it is called mediation, circles, conferencing … Try to mould and standardise restorative justice and all you will achieve is its McDonalisation. Its diversity and ability to deliver equity and fairness at a local level, its creativity and innovation will all die out. In his introductory letter, Scott Harris Associate Assistant Commissioner at CSC announced the theme of restorative justice week as “Diverse Needs; Unique Responses”. He said: “This theme recognizes that restorative justice is an approach that addresses the various needs of people impacted by crime and conflict … Restorative justice processes are highly adaptable to different people, environments, and systems as the identified needs of the people involved help formulate the unique response that can contribute to a person’s sense of safety, justice and well-being”. Commissioner Harris knows that this is due to the commitment of local practitioners and not because of top down structures that mainstream a community-led practice.

After this week, I am no longer as interested in carrying on being a student of restorative justice. I want to be a student of the community restorativists who make this community-born and community-led ethos a practical reality. We can all benefit from joining their circle.

 

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