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Restorative justice, as used in the criminal justice system (for juvenile and adult offenders), is an approach whereby victims can meet or communicate with their offender. The hope; victims can move forward and recover from the crime; while criminals may think of the effects of their crimes on people, which may aid their rehabilitation.
However, restorative justice, say academics, can also harm. By bringing the past back and actually meeting the perpetrator face-to-face, some victims have been left with higher levels of post-traumatic stress than before. That’s according to research – searching relevant databases to identify quantitative studies measuring post-traumatic symptoms in victims of crime who completed either a restorative justice or customary justice intervention. Seven studies were identified examining one or more facet of post-traumatic symptomology.
These studies provide modest support, say the researchers – led by Alex Lloyd, PhD student from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London; and former senior lecturer, Dr Jo Borrill, from the University of Westminster – that restorative justice did produce a greater improvement on post-traumatic symptoms than customary justice procedures, but this was only consistently evidenced for symptoms of avoidance and intrusion, whereas there were mixed findings with regards to the sub-scales of negative alterations in mood and cognition, and arousal and reactivity.
Alex Lloyd said: “Restorative justice is a great idea and can help some victims, but there needs to be a lot more research into which individuals or groups this process works for. A lot has changed since it started in the 1970s, including the types of crime.
“The purpose of our review was to evaluate the effectiveness of restorative justice in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress that develop following victimisation and we found there is a real need to see if the actual process of restorative justice for some crimes, such as more violent acts, actually helps or harms victims who are already suffering from post-traumatic stress. It is certainly not a one-size-fits-all method, and can have some serious consequences if not looked into appropriately.”