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Restorative Justice: a snapshot

August 2, 2012

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Restorative justice challenges traditional notions of what is justice and how it is applied (Bonta et al 2006). Restorative justice aims to hold people who commit crime accountable for their crime in ways that are constructive, yet not punitive or harsh (Daly et al 2006), and to reconcile the differences between an offender and their victim or victims including members of the community who may also be affected by the criminal act (Krisberg 2005; Shoemaker 2009).

Each model of restorative justice has different key objectives which influence how restorative justice practices are implemented (White and Haines 2008). With the increasing acceptance that some programs can be effective, and growth in empirical research that some rehabilitative treatments can be successful, the Risk Need Responsivity  (RNR) Model (Andrews and Bonta 2003) and the Good Lives Model (GLM)  (Ward and Stewart) suggest principles for effective rehabilitation, and are primary examples of a risk management approach and a strength-based approach of working with offenders (Ward and Maruna 2007).

Rehabilitation programs aim to help ex-offenders reintegrate into the community and reduce recidivism: the RNR Model attempts this by assessing the risks and needs of each individual offender (Seiter and Kadela 2003; Wormith et al 2007), and involves policies and practices which focus principally on the detection and management of risk (Ward and Maruna 2007). The RNR Model is a leading influence in offender rehabilitation (Ogloff and Davis 2004); is widely considered as “the most coherent approach to treatment now available”  (Gaes et al 1993:363); and is supported by a significant body of empirical evidence (Andrews and Dowden 2005; Cullen and Gendreau 2000; MacKenzie 2006). Reviews have indicated that the most effective RNR Model rehabilitation programs can reduce reoffending by up to 40 percent for juveniles (Day 2005). This is significant as the recidivism rate for juveniles released from imprisonment has been reported to be as high as 96 percent (Day 2005).

Developed from the strengths of the RNR Model, Ward and Stewart (2003) have proposed the GLM of offender rehabilitation. The GLM is closely aligned with positive psychology principles (Ward and Mann 2004) owing to its overall positive approach to treatment, and its focus on promoting offender wellbeing (Day et al 2010). The GLM is a comprehensive strength-based approach which seeks to provide those in treatment with the resources necessary to gain primary human goods in personally meaningful and socially acceptable ways, therefore managing and reducing their risk for future reoffending (Schaffer et al 2010; Ward and Brown 2004; Whitehead et al 2007). In acknowledging the limitation of the scant published research on the GLM, proponents cite that the Model is largely based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, and that this approach has been found to be effective in reducing recidivism (Ward and Gannon 2006).

Empirical evidence increasingly supports the notion that it is possible to reduce recidivism rates by rehabilitating offenders, rather than by focussing on retribution and punishment (Ward and Maruna 2007). This is supported by research indicating that positive reinforcement is more effective in reducing recidivism than punishment, with offenders responding better to and maintaining newly learned behaviours longer when rewarded for appropriate behaviour, rather than punished for inappropriate behaviour (Warren 2007). Without rehabilitation programs many offenders and ex-offenders will reoffend in the future (Petersilia 2004), and with the vast majority returning to our communities from prison, rehabilitation programs are an important element in the goal of reducing recidivism.

– Faith Lissenden



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Whitehead, P. R., Ward, T., and Collie, R. M. (2007). “Time for a Change: Applying the Good Lives Model of Rehabilitation to a High-Risk Violent Offender”, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 51 (5): 578-598.

Wormith, J. S., Althouse, R., Simpson, M., Reitzel, L. R., Fagan, T. J., and Morgan, R. D. (2007). “The Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders: The Current Landscape and Some Future Directions for Correctional Psychology”, Criminal Justice and Behaviour, 34 (7): 879-892.

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