Implementing Restorative Justice Practices, Criminal Mediations, Restorative Dialogues, and Family Group Conferences
Retributive Justice & Restorative Justice
There are two forms of criminal justice in the world: on the one hand, there is the retributive justice that we know today in the western world, and, on the other hand, there is a form of restorative justice. This form of justice, mainly implemented in Oceania, Africa, and North America before colonization, reappeared about twenty years ago and is now widely disseminated, also in Europe. Indeed, retributive justice, which concentrates its efforts on the offender’s punishment – and possible rehabilitation – has shown in its own limits in terms of the fight against recidivism, the social reintegration of the convicted person, and also in the recognition of victims’ rights.
By assigning the monopoly of conflict resolution to the state, contemporary criminal justice removes the opportunity for the offender and the victim of the offense to take part in the conflict’s resolution. Criminal proceedings may then be rendered meaningless, thus preventing both the perpetrator’s responsibility and the recognition of the victim’s suffering. Ultimately, the needs of those affected by the conflict are likely to be secondary to the needs of the bureaucratic state machine. In the wake of criticisms of retributive justice, we are now witnessing the emergence and multiplication of so-called “alternative” criminal measures, which are closely or remotely part of the paradigm of restorative justice.
Victim/Perpetrator criminal mediation is part of the range of alternative criminal measures that also include restorative dialogues and family group conferencing.
Mediation consists of organizing a meeting between the perpetrator and the victim of an offense – as long as they both willingly agree – allowing them to solve the conflict themselves and to find ways to repair the damage caused by the crimes. They are assisted by a specially trained mediator (impartial and independent of the penal authorities who supervise the meeting or meetings).
In juvenile justice in Switzerland, mediation is implemented mainly at the beginning of the procedure or even at the judgment stage. The approach allows respondents and the injured to communicate the facts surrounding the offense and to achieve mutual listening, as well as recognition and redress for the injured. If successful, it constitutes an alternative way of judging and convicting in Swiss law, and develops awareness and accountability among those implicated. In prison, the meeting often takes place several years after the conviction and is not intended to influence the criminal procedure. The emphasis is on dialogue between the parties and the exchange of information about the act. The preparation phase is intense, especially when it comes to violent crime.
Not well-known in Switzerland, prison mediation has been offered in foreign penitentiary institutions for more than 20 years, particularly in Belgium, the United States, and Canada. Various studies and evaluations have been carried out in these countries, which convince us not only of the feasibility of the project but also of its importance and its legitimacy.
Inmates wish to participate in a criminal mediation to, on the one hand, express their regrets and apologize to their victim and help him/her in his/her healing process, and on the other hand, to promote their own rehabilitation and explain the circumstances of the act and their life course. The satisfaction rate of the offenders participating in the process is extremely high (between 80% and 97% depending on the studies).
Victims are also overwhelmingly satisfied with the mediations and perceive this process as “fair”. When compared to the criminal justice system, victims always show a higher satisfaction rate after a restorative justice process than after a criminal trial. During a mediation, victims get information about the act, the feeling of having been listened to and recognized as victims, and the impression of having regained control of their lives by settling the conflict themselves.
In addition to these very positive results, participation in a restorative justice process seems to significantly reduce the risk of a second offense.
« No one can repair the evil lived, but it is possible to restore some essential aspects… »
Are you a victim?
- Can I meet the perpetrator?
- I have things to tell him/her
- I need to better understand.
- I have several unanswered questions
- Why did this happen to me?
- What if I had to meet him/her again?
- Does (s)he realize the consequences of his/her actions?
- How is (s)he going to compensate me?
Are you the perpetrator of a criminal offense?
- Can I do something?
- I have to talk to my victim …
- Can I meet him/her?
- What does (s)he think of this case?
- How can I reassure him/her?
- Is it possible to compensate him/her?
- I’m ashamed, I’d like to fix it…
- How can I explain it to him/her?