Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy

Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy

Editors: Theo Gavrielides and Vasso Artinopoulou
Publisher: Farnham, Surrey, UK; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013. 368p.
Reviewer: Russ Immarigeon | July 2014

As Howard Zehr mentions in his introduction to this new volume, “restorative justice” was a practice before it was a theory. Canadian-born victim offender reconciliation programs began as early as 1974 (Knopp et al., 1976). In the 1980s, Mark Umbreit (1985) and Zehr worked in Indiana on separate victim-offender reconciliation programs that gave rise to the term restorative justice (Zehr, 1985, 1990). So, restorative justice, as a practice, as a theory, and as a movement, has been accelerating for approximately forty years. Over this time, hundreds of articles, books, and reports have been published on the topic. Most of these describe the program operations or theoretical foundations of restorative justice initiatives. Few involve empirical assessments of restorative justice’s impact on individuals, the criminal justice system, or communities (for a recent exception, see Miles and Raynor, 2014).

In Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy, editors Theo Gavrielides and Vasso Artinopoulou have gathered sixteen articles that emerged from discussions at the First International Conference on Restorative Justice, on the Greek island of Skopelos in June 2012 (the second such conference is scheduled for June 2014, also at Skopelos) . As co-directors of Restorative Justice for All, the international institute on restorative justice that organized this “Greek Symposium,” Gavrielides and Artinopoulou are interested in “new methods of writing about restorative justice.” For this volume, American, Australian, Canadian, Cypriot , Greek, Italian, New Zealander, South African, and United Kingdom scholars and advocates met at Skopelos, to begin a process of thrashing out and realigning ideas about the theoretical, if not practical, foundations of restorative justice.

Of the sixteen articles in this volume, the editors write that four focus on value-based methods of examining restorative justice, Aristotelian perspectives on restorative justice, a new vision of “restorative pain,” and post-conference conclusions on reconstructing restorative justice philosophies. The remaining articles cover a broad territory that includes the lessons and teachings of restorative justice, the role of gatekeeping in the development of restorative justice, a Foucauldian perspective on restorative justice, the institutionalization of restorative justice, the implications of “relationality” in restorative justice, returning conflict and justice to Aboriginal peoples, assessing the potential of restorative justice, and future challenges for restorative justice. In the process, these articles also cover the African concept of Ubuntu and case studies of the use of restorative justice in instances of clergy sexual abuse, the integration of restorative justice into existing law, and the use of peacemaking circles to divest restorative justice of “punishment and just deserts” values.

The editors’ aim in convening this conference and compiling these articles was to “structure value-based debates and reasoning.” At the conference, participants were guided by values such as equality, respect and diversity, voluntariness, interconnectedness, brotherhood (sic) and solidarity, due process, freedom of speech and freedom from fear, and confidentiality. In the articles, the editors stressed four principles: to elaborate on, and build upon, existing concepts of restorative justice in the existing literature (introducing new ideas and practices as well as conducting a literature review); to raise important, global concerns, especially within a human rights framework, emerging from the contemporary understanding of restorative justice; to deconstruct notions of restorative justice so as to illuminate “some of the colors of the restorative justice spectrum”; and to reconstruct “notions and ideas” that conference participants, and article authors, have challenged in one form or another.

Gavrielides and Artinopoulou open this volume observing the intersection of Aristotle, restorative justice, and human rights, with emphasis on the concepts of equality and fairness. Gerry Johnstone (University of Hull) then examines the dichotomy between applying restorative justice and living restoratively and Giuseppe Maglione (University of Florence) demythologizes current “explanations and justifications” for restorative justice through an examination of the historical context for pre-restorative justice formulations as well as more contemporary ones. New Zealand’s Anne Hayden, a practitioner, raises concerns about “gatekeepers,” including victim advocates, community police and others involved with cases of interpersonal violence, who may divert restorative justice cases from affecting routine criminal justice practices, or who mobilize such cases in an earnest effort to challenge and change current justice-system practices.

Robert E. Mackay, another practitioner (long in the United Kingdom, now in Australia) assesses the role of “rights” in restorative justice cases, especially those involving clergy-initiated sexual abuse. With reference to Habermas’ distinction between “lifeworld” and “system,” Mackay concludes, “We need to be able to integrate the practice of rights within law and formal dispute settlement (system) and achieve moral and spiritual security and healing within our community (lifeworld) if we are to provide the structures (institutions) and spirit in which our human life can be realized.” Moreover, we need “to develop special insights and skills to enable us to undertake this practice ‘in good faith.’”

Mara Schiff (Florida Atlantic University) next examines “the complex power structures within which (restorative justice reforms) are situated.” Restorati ve justice, she suggests, is more likely to advance social justice more on a step-by-step basis than on a grand scale. She proposes a “learning organization” perspective (Senge, 1990) as a model for building upon the “passion and c ommitment’ of restorative justice’s advocates. Susan Sharpe (University of Notre Dame) argues on behalf of relationality over due process (Nedelsky, 2011). Maria Hadjipavlou (University of Cyprus) connects conflict resolution and restorative justice processes in addressing not only individual conflicts but also community and state conflicts.

Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy concludes with five articles that bring restorative justice “back to basics.” Judah Oudshoorn (Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning) notes that the “values and norms” of restorative justice come from Aboriginal traditions. Evelyn Zellerer (Kwantlen Polytechnic University) affirms the importance of peacemaking circles. Marelize Shoeman (University of South Africa) reviews the African concept of ubuntu. And, finally, Gavrielides and Artinopoulou conclude that restorative justice is defined in terms of institutions as well as a “fairness set within the context of lives and freedoms of the people involved.” They state that “power and the imbalances that are experienced in the pursuit and application of justice” are raised frequently in discussions of restorative justice, including those in this volume. They note that this does not simply “involve power imbalances between the state and the individual but also between the various parties in restorative justice, the parties and the facilitators, the parties and society, society and the state, communities and mainstream justice agencies.” Furthermore, they posit: “Our interconnectedness, our shared values (such as human rights), our shared ways of being, our collective hopes and our resistance to institutionalized hope and power are all common threads running through [restorative justice]. As a community-born and community-led ethos, restorative justice relies on these connections. It is therefore no surprise why relations and values [end] up being the dominant features of our philosophical thinking.”
Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy contains a three-page forewo rd by John Braithwaite and a three-page preface by Howard Zehr. Zehr’s comments are particularly noteworthy. He states that five points should be considered in any reconsideration of restorative justice as it has evolved and developed over the past four decades: restorative justice’s base in practice leaves its theoretical foundation under-developed or lacking coherence; restorative justice’s eclectic, diverse development often mitigates against coherence; cultural, gender, and other biases affect the development of restorative justice theories and practices; restorative justice has a weak foundation of addressing race and class issues; and restorative justice theory is more often “tweaked” but not “fundamentally reoriented.”

Gavrielides and Artinopoulou have handled some of these matters. Half of the volume’s authors, for example, are women. But other matters require further effort. While this is clearly a valiant effort , in the end it may be more of a “tweak” than a “reorientation.” Despite the importance of theory, ongoing evaluation should prove more telling of the impact of restorative justice not only on individuals but also on communities, neighborhoods, and governmental jurisdictions.


Knopp, Fay Honey et al. (1976) Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists. Syracuse, NY: Prison Research Education Action Project.
Miles, Helen and Raynor, Peter (2014). Reintegrative Justice in Practice: The Informal Management of Crime in an Island Community. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
Nedelsky, Jennifer (2011). Law’s Relations: A Relational Theory of Self, Autonomy, and Law. New York: Oxford University Press.
Senge, Peter (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of Learning Organization. London: Century Business.
Umbreit, Mark (1985). Crime & Reconciliation: Creative Options for Victims and Offenders. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Zehr, Howard (1985). Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice. Elkhart, IN: MCC U.S. Office of Criminal Justice.
Zehr, Howard (1990). Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

Russ Immarigeon is a local “town and village” court justice in upstate New York.

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