The merits of restorative justice theory and practices are starting to be more widely examined within the literature and are gradually being put into practice around the world

The merits of restorative justice theory and practices are starting to be more widely examined within the literature and are gradually being put into practice around the world. It has become clear that the retributive State justice system is not having its desired effect; the criminal justice process is “deepening societal wounds and conflicts rather than contributing to healing or peace” (Zehr, 2015, p. 6). This is the harsh reality for many offenders who continue to walk through the revolving doors of the justice system. Our current justice system does not recognize the intrinsic link between trauma and offending behaviour; trauma is a causal mechanism for why offenders end up in conflict with the law in the first place (Oudshoorn, 2015). Restorative justice approaches advocate for trauma-informed rehabilitation while taking into account the importance of emotional dynamics by practicing emotionally intelligent justice. By bringing victims, offenders, and the community together through restorative justice practices, we decrease the social distance between one another and provide an opportunity for healing. The rationale for including restorative justice in our current system is that it gives us a better chance at bringing justice home effectively; our current justice system is not trauma informed nor does it take into account important emotional dynamics such as shame. In utilizing a restorative justice framework, we have the ability to transform conflict and look for meaningful, long-lasting solutions.
We can see the stark contrast between retributive justice and restorative justice in the different questions they ask when a violation has been committed; Retributive justice asks: Was a crime committed or a rule broken? Who did it? What punishment do they deserve? Restorative justice asks: What is the crime and who is affected by it? What are their needs? Whose obligations are these? (Elliott, 2011). Restorative justice involves changing our questions and changing our responses. The justice lens is shifted from one of punishment and retribution to one that is concerned with needs and roles. As stated by Zehr (2015): “The guiding questions of restorative justice may, in fact, be viewed as restorative justice in a nutshell” (Zehr, 2015, p. 51).
Howard Zehr, often coined the father of restorative justice, created three central pillars of restorative justice. The three pillars are: harms and needs, obligations, and engagement (Zehr, 2015). Restorative justice understands harm as harms done to people and communities, which is in contrast with the retributive justice view that the State is the victim. For RJ, justice begins with a concern for victims and their needs, and focuses on repairing harm towards the victim and the community collectively (Zehr, 2015). The second pillar, obligations, is built off the first pillar, finding that wrongs or harms result in obligations. Restorative justice emphasizes accountability and responsibility, as offenders have a responsibility to repair the harm and try to make things right as much as possible (Zehr, 2015). In regards to the third pillar, restorative justice promotes engagement and participation. This last pillar expands the circle of stakeholders; those who have been victimized, those who have offended, and members of the community, are all provided significant roles in the justice process (Zehr, 2015). Many scholars in the restorative justice literature have similarly advocated for the expansion of stakeholders in criminal justice processes (Christie, 1997, Bennett 2007; Pranis, 2001).
A core restorative justice principle is direct participation by key stakeholders in decisions affecting them; restorative justice calls for direct participation and the active involvement of victims, offenders, and the community in the criminal justice process (Pranis, 2001). With the current retributive system, when a conflict arises, there is a higher authority that intervenes and steals the conflict from those directly affected (Diamond, 2012). Nils Christie (1997) exemplifies this fact in his article Conflict as Property where he makes the argument that our current justice system is primarily a conversation between the State and the actors who represent the State, such as the police, court, and penitentiary (Christie, 1997). The State steals the conflict from key stakeholders, particularly victims, who lose their voices in the process. Both Christie (1997) and Bennett (2007) have advocated to take justice out of the hands of lawyers of the State and put it back in the hands of the victims and communities that are directly affected (Christie, 1997; Bennet, 2007). By invoking a restorative justice approach, we can give back the conflict to those who rightfully own it—those directly affected by the crime such as the offender, victim, and community. Offenders and their respective communities of care need to have the opportunity to “own their conflicts” and make things right in a more meaningful way (McCold, 2010). As stated by McCold (2010), “reparation decided by a judge can interfere with the healing process as it deprives the primary stakeholders of the opportunity to express their feelings, tell their story and collectively identify and address the harms, needs, and responses” (McCold, 2010, p. 169).
The direct participation of key stakeholders can be achieved through diverse restorative justice practices such as victim-offender reconciliation programs, circle sentencing, conferencing, and community accountability programs. Sentencing circles or peacemaking circles have been used in many Aboriginal communities in an attempt to incorporate what are identified as Aboriginal values into the process (Morrison & Pawlychka, 2015). Traditional practice is based on three principles: “1) a criminal offence represents a breach of the relationship between the offender and the victim/community; 2) the well-being of the community is dependent on healing these breaches; and 3) the community is the best resource to address these breaches” (Morrison & Pawlychka, 2015, p. 443). By using a restorative justice sentencing circle, the victims’ and offenders’ micro-communities of care—family members, friends, neighbours, teachers and anyone else emotionally connected to the offence—are all involved and have a say in the justice process (McCold, 2010). In this way, sentencing circles encourage a high degree of community participation that is not seen with a State-based framework.
Face-to-face criminal justice processes such as sentencing circles and conferences have the ability to increase social cohesion between two people who may come from different worlds. As stated by Pranis (2001): “stereotypes and broad generalizations about groups of people are difficult to sustain in the face of direct contact with an individual in a respectful setting” (Pranis, 2001, p. 297). Additionally, victims appear to be more than just ‘an object with a handbag’ or some anonymous owner of a stolen item, but a human being with emotions and feelings just like the offender themselves (Harris, Walgrave & Braithwaite, 2004). By directly listening to a victim recount the offence and how it affected them, there is more of a chance of actually getting the message through to the offender that what they did was wrong. Offenders know that the suffering has been caused by their own behaviour making feels of empathy, remorse, and shame/guilt more concrete (Harris et al., 2004). In this way, moral wrongfulness discussed in emotional terms in a face-to-face setting is a more effective way to talk about reparation for harm done than abstractly talking about legal rules and their connection to morality and ethics in a court setting (Harris et al., 2004). There is little evidence that the court processes are capable of generating any emotions except anger; it is more likely that emotions such as remorse and empathy are best generated outside of the court in a restorative justice process that allows unstructured dialogue between parties (Sherman, 2003).
The current justice system largely ignores the relevance of important emotions such as shame. As stated by Elliott (2011): “one of the insidious features of the adversarial criminal justice system is its distorted and insensitive handling of human emotion” (Elliott, 2011, p. 148). The intrinsic link between emotional dynamics and criminal justice is largely ignored due to society’s primary focus on rationality. Lawyers will often tell their clients to keep their emotions in check during criminal justice proceedings so as not to appear irrational and incoherent; sometimes the show of emotions can even be seen as manipulative in the courtroom (Elliott, 2011). The understatement of this subject can be largely explained by the dominance of cognitive and behaviour psychology in criminal justice institutions, with a large focus on rationality (Elliott, 2011). On the other hand, restorative justice theory does not focus on reason at the expense of emotion and seeks to understand and incorporate important emotional dynamics into the justice system. Sherman (2003) proposes the use of a new paradigm: emotionally intelligent justice. With this new paradigm, the law is seen as rational while the offender is seen as emotional:
The State would try to make its officials control their own emotions in order to adopt a rational stance towards a presumably emotional offender, as well as towards the emotions of victims and communities, in order to persuade all citizens to comply with the law and repair the harm caused by past crime (Sherman, 2003, p. 8).
An emotionally intelligent paradigm would not assume that all individuals have the same reaction to the justice process. Minority group members, such as Aboriginals, may have completely different reactions to criminal justice system processes, given the different emotional context of certain groups and the history of legal treatment of certain minorities (Sherman, 2003).
Restorative justice can be seen as emotionally intelligent justice and seeks to understand the effects of important emotions such as shame in restorative justice practices (Sherman, 2003). Shame occurs when an individual feels disproval in the eyes of others and can be either real or imagined disproval (Harris et al., 2004). Richard Schweder provides a powerful quote in an attempt to conceptualize the experience of shame:
Shame is the deeply felt and highly motivating experience of the fear of being judged defective. It is the anxious experience of either the real or anticipated loss of status, affection or self-regard that results from knowing that one is vulnerable to the disapproving gaze or negative judgement of others. It is a terror that touches the mind, the body, and the soul precisely because one is aware that one might be seen to have come up short in relationship to some shared and uncontested idea that defines what it means to a good, worthy, admirable, attractive, or competent person, given one’s status or position in society (Schweder, 2003, p. 1115).
It is clear that experiencing shame can make us feel that there is something inherently wrong with us, however, everyone experiences shame and vulnerability; accepting the normality of these emotions and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and experience shame is pivotal for the healing process. As stated by Brené Brown in her Ted Talk on shame: “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change” (Brown, 2012). If we are right that shame is almost inevitable once there is agreement that an individual is guilty of a crime, then the problem at hand is helping the offender effectively deal with the feelings of shame in a constructive way (Harris et al., 2004). A major value in restorative justice in comparison to retributive criminal justice is that it addresses the emotional dynamics of crime and its control, giving rise to “emotionally intelligent justice” (Sherman, 2003).
One of the earlier theoretical works on restorative justice, Crime, Shame and Reintegration by Braithwaite (1989), introduced the idea of shame as a key component of the collaborative process (Elliott, 2011). There are primarily two types of shaming that can occur: stigmatizing shaming and reintegrative shaming. The former is usually what is experienced in the courtroom while the latter can be associated with restorative justice practices. The problem with the current retributive justice system is that shaming is stigmatizing instead of reintegrative. Restorative justice interventions are consistent with the approach advocated by reintegrative shaming theory (Harris, Walgrave, Braithwaite, 2004). Reintegrative shaming theory argues that disapproval or shaming that is carried out in a reintegrative fashion, instead of a stigmatizing fashion, can have the effect of decreasing future offending behaviour (Murphy & Harris, 2007). This is because “reintegrative shaming communicates the disproval of an act while conferring respect on the offender and reintegrating them back into their community of care” (Harris, Walgrave, Braithwaite, 2004, p. 192). On the other hand, disintegrative shaming equates with stigmatization, which runs the risk of making the crime problem worse. Stigmatization is disrespectful and can be considered out-casting shaming, which treats the person as the problem, rather than their actions (Harris et al., 2004). This is in obvious contrast with the goals of restorative justice—to make the offender feel like they are not a bad person, but instead, did a bad thing. With the primary intent of restorative justice being to repair the harms done, there is a strong emphasis in restorative justice practices on forms of disapproval that are reintegrative in nature, rather than stigmatizing (Harris et al., 2004). In this way, restorative practices, in responding to shame in a reintegrative way, can aid in preventing future violent offending behaviours.
The interconnection between shame, honour and violence is seen in James Gilligan’s book Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes (1986). Gilligan spent many years doing psychiatric work with incarcerated men and came to the conclusion that “the purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with the opposite—pride—thus preventing the individual from being overwhelmed by the feeling of shame” (as cited in Elliott, 2011, p. 158). Similarly, Oravecz (2000) found that the shame-productive effects of blame, contempt and humiliation are connected to interpersonal and social aspects of violent offending (Oravecz, 2000). Indeed, many studies show that the majority of those who offend have been victimized or traumatized and that these harms may be an important contributing cause of crime (Zehr, 2015). Research explains shame as being an influencing factor for why some individuals who are hurt, turn around and hurt others (Oudshoorn, 2015). For many offenders, their feelings of shame stem from early childhood experiences; offenders may be survivors of a lifetime of abuse and neglect by their so-called caregivers (Elliott, 2011). These offenders have experienced a lack of care and security throughout their lifetime, making them feel shame and inadequacy, most likely playing a large role in their perpetration of violence. Unfortunately, the current correctional responses to violence in North America do not take this into account. As exacerbated by Elliott (2011): “Interventions inside prison focus on the individual’s conduct and what they did to other people; rarely, if ever, do prison programs address what other people did to the individual along the way to his or her prison sentence” (Elliott, 2011, p. 159). On the contrary, restorative justice processes recognize that offenders may be victims themselves and advocate for trauma-informed rehabilitation. Howard Zehr advocates that if we are to truly address harms and causes, “we must explore the harms that those who cause harm have themselves experienced” (Zehr, 2015, p. 41). This is important because the core impacts of trauma can manifest in many ways: problems regulating emotion and arousal; alterations in consciousness and memory; mental health problems like anxiety, depression, PTSD and PTSS; damage to self-concept, disruption in cognitive capacities; relationship problems; and altered systems of belief (Oudshoorn, 2015).
Even though many offenders are victims of earlier trauma, correctional processes largely ignore its impact, and instead overemphasize the individual psychology of offender conduct (Oudshoorn, 2015). Dealing with offenders through a psychology of criminal conduct does not deal with trauma because a one-size-fits-all mechanism is being used. In Canada, the psychological risk assessment tool is used at most phases of the correctional process. The problem with this is that the actuarial output of this tool has the power to shape everything about an offender’s experience depending on their score (Oudshoorn, 2015). The Statistical Information on Recidivism (SIR) tool itemizes an offender’s risk of reoffending, informing the inmate’s security classification (maximum, medium or minimum), which in turn shapes the application of correctional programming (Oudshoorn, 2015). This all sounds logical, however, none of the 15 items included on the SIR account for the traumas experienced by offenders. Additionally, tools for measuring risk have very little predictive accuracy for offender recidivism (Oudshoorn, 2015). Therefore, risk assessments miss offender traumas. This is rather problematic because earlier trauma is a primary cause of why these offenders end up behind bars in the first place. Many researchers have found that early childhood victimization is a significant predictor of future offending; adult offending has been found to be related to early childhood factors such as family violence, with the child either witnessing violence, experiencing violence, or both (Elliott, 2011). Similarly, Randall and Haskell (2013) talk about the widespread problems of childhood abuse, violence, and neglect, and assert that individuals who are responding to trauma often are led to substance abuse and conflict with the law (Randall & Haskell, 2013). Additionally, Oudshoorn (2015) asserts that “there is a significant body of evidence indicating that most people behind bars have experienced individual trauma like family violence, sexual abuse and/or poverty” (Oudshoorn, 2015).
In Canada, Aboriginals are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice process and this can be integrally linked to their past traumatic experiences within the residential school system (Waldram, 2104). Aboriginal offenders make up almost a quarter of the inmate population in prison, despite only representing three percent of the overall population (Oudshoorn, 2015). As exemplified by Oudshoorn (2015), the individual traumas of Aboriginal communities are the collective traumas of settler colonialism (Oudshoorn, 2015). “This history provides a framework for understanding alcohol abuse, violence, and criminality, because this is not the “natural” disposition of Aboriginal people” (Waldram, 2014, p. 371-372). Indeed, Aboriginals face intergenerational “historical trauma” that is the product of historical forces related to colonization and the creation of the residential school system. The historical processes of colonialism and the collective traumas Aboriginals experienced in the residential school system are exacerbated in the documentary We Were Children and provide a useful example for understanding the ripple effects of trauma in this context (Christensen & Wolochatiuk, 2012).
The documentary We Were Children provides real-life accounts of the traumas endured by Aboriginal children while living in the government’s residential school system context (Christensen ; Wolochatiuk, 2012). Two survivors, Lyna and Glen, bravely recount their experiences while being placed in church-run boarding schools that were created in an attempt to assimilate Aboriginal children into the mainstream society. Lyna and Glen were both ripped away from their families and their heritage at a very young age and placed in the residential school system. Both survivors talk about the traumas they experienced while living in the residential schools; they suffered years of mental, physical, and emotional abuse, which was unfortunately the norm in these institutions. Glen discussed the traumatizing experience of being locked in a small dark closet below a trapdoor basement for days because he had expressed that he wanted to visit his family. Lyna’s story of traumatization was a little different, as she described being raped by a male priest and witnessing many others, both boys and girls, being sexually abused. Both Glen and Lyna talked about the ripple effect these early life traumas had on the rest of their lives even when released from the residential schools. Glen noted that many of his friends became alcoholics and led lives of criminality when they were released, and that many of them eventually committed suicide. He also discussed his own struggle with alcohol abuse and suicidal ideation that he believes stemmed from his traumatic experiences in the residential school system. Both Lyna and Glen explained how they carried the effects of the trauma around with them for the rest of their lives.
These two stories provided by Aboriginal residential school survivors are very powerful in the discussion of trauma and its effects on offending behaviours. If we have a trauma-informed justice system, we can better respond to the needs of Aboriginal offenders, a largely over-represented population at every stage of the justice system. With the North American prison systems focusing primarily on the psychology of criminal conduct, the rehabilitation process largely misses the effect of both individually and collectively caused traumas (Oudshoorn, 2015). Since the underlying causes of trauma amongst this population are not being effectively dealt with, we can make the logical inference that the over-representation of Aboriginals within the criminal justice system is intrinsically linked to the traumas experienced within the residential school system. Being the most over-represented population in the Canadian criminal justice system, Aboriginals need opportunities for healing and trauma-informed rehabilitation the most. As stated by Elliott (2011): “if this is not done, a history of brokenness may ensue and become a catalyst for new harms” (Elliott, 2011, p. 172). Unfortunately, the traumas imposed by the institutions of settler colonialism on Aboriginal societies have created large-scale intergenerational trauma and has become a catalyst for new harms, of which Elliott (2011) warned against (Oudshoorn, 2015). The Aboriginal collective traumas of settler colonialism are just one primary example of a population that would benefit from trauma-informed rehabilitation within a restorative justice approach; being trauma-informed is imperative to the promotion of healing within restorative justice practices.
It is clear that being trauma-informed is important in terms of justice and that our current system has a large missing piece, but how do we go about being trauma-informed? As described by Randell and Haskell (2013), a trauma-informed approach begins with the acknowledgement of the extent of traumatic experiences both within the general population and the offender population (Randall & Haskell, 2013). This is followed by a necessary understanding of the ways trauma responses may affect people’s lives and abilities to cope with life’s many challenges (Randell & Haskell, 2013). Further, “it recognizes that effective interventions with people require both the avoidance of re-traumatization and the presence of respectful and supportive interventions that help people rebuild their lives” (Randell & Haskell, 2013, p. 505). Similarly, Oudshoorn (2015) asserts that to be trauma-informed means that practitioners in the in the field of rehabilitation: “1) understand trauma, especially how it affects a person’s behaviour, 2) work towards helping people and communities heal, and 3) try not to do further harm” (Oudshoorn, 2015, p. 2). Both Oudshoorn (2015) and Randell and Haskell’s (2013) conceptualizations of trauma-informed approaches are consistent with restorative justice practices that focus on healing and presenting further harms. In a study on post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), it was found that restorative justice conferences do not increase victim trauma and that restorative justice conferences reduce the psychologically traumatic effects of crime (Morrison, 2018, slide 28).
By being trauma-informed we can more effectively bring justice home. Given the focus on harm and healing rather than crime and punishment within restorative practices, it is easy to see how a restorative justice lens could accommodate trauma-informed rehabilitation (Elliott, 2011). Effectively dealing with trauma instead of ignoring the root causes of crime is consistent with the conflict transformation approach proposed by Lederach (2013). The distinction is made between conflict resolution and conflict transformation: whereas conflict resolution simply focuses on short-term fixes to something that is not desired, conflict transformation sees the opportunity to address the underlying causes of conflict, which in turn contributes to longer, sustainable solutions (Lederach 2003). Conflict resolution mimics that of a State-based justice approach, responding to crime with short-term fixes without trying to understand the underlying causal mechanisms for crime. As noted by Elliott (2011), we cannot expect to reach a different outcome if we keep doing the same thing; by not addressing the root causes of crime many individuals will continue to walk through the revolving doors of justice (Elliott, 2011). By viewing crime through a conflict transformation lens, we are being trauma-informed—we are paying specific attention to the root causes of crime and trying to heal the problem from the ground up to contribute to long-lasting solutions.
There are significant implications for our criminal justice system drawing off the knowledge of trauma-informed justice and the importance of emotional dynamics in the application to violence against women. “One of the tragedies in the case of sexual abuse is that survivors are so often doubted, which compounds their trauma” (Oudshoorn, 2015, p. 16). The way police officers, lawyers, and the court system deal with female victims of sexual violence often results in the re-traumatization of the victim and an attack on their emotions to diminish credibility. In quoting Herman (1997), traumatic events:
Breach the attachments of family, friendship, love and the community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and case the victim into a state of existential crisis (as cited in Elliot, 2011, p. 173-174).
Women who are victims of intimate partner and/or sexual violence are already being put into a state of “existential crisis” as stated by Herman (1997) from the traumatic event, but the response of our current criminal justice system often continues to put salt on the wound by furthering traumatization. In Randall’s 2010 article, Sexual Assault Law, Credibility, and “Ideal Victims”: Consent, Resistance, and Victim Blaming it is discussed how only “ideal victims” have their claims of sexual assault substantiated. “A fundamental expression of the ways in which the credibility of women who report sexual assault have been undermined is found in the stereotypes surrounding who a “real” sexual assault victim is and how such a “real” victim responds to this violence” (Randall, 2010, p. 407). Exercising emotionally intelligent justice realizes that it is normal for different individuals to have different reactions to the justice process, however, the current criminal justice system appears to be exploiting these different reactions to determine who is a “real” victim. The trauma that many women undergo at the hands of men should be taken seriously, in every circumstance. In fact, sexual assault produces some of the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Deitz, Williams, Rife & Cantrell, 2015). Additionally, research on violence against women from a feminist standpoint has advocated for “battered woman’s syndrome,” which is a mental disorder that develops from prolonged abuse and the trauma that comes with it (Elliott, 2011).
The way female victims of sexual assault are treated in the criminal trial process also provides a fertile breeding ground for re-traumatization, especially for minorities. A study examining sexual assault trials found that the more hostile and racist the credibility assaults, the more distressing and traumatizing the trial process is for rape complainants (Randall, 2010, 411). This traumatization effect was exemplified in the cases of Aboriginal women, where their credibility testing was compounded by cultural and language problems and were subjected to a more intense amount of questioning regarding their drinking, drug use, and sexual behaviours (Randall, 2010). However, it is not only in the court room where these victims can be subject to re-traumatization; police officers have a tremendous amount of discretion in the administration or withholding of “rape kits.” There have been many instances where police officers have refused to administer these kits for forensic testing, thereby depriving women of victim status because they were in disbelief of the event occurring (Randall, 2010).
It is clear in the case of violence against women that justice is not trauma-informed nor emotionally intelligent. The current criminal justice system does not instill a security of care to many of these women nor is it effective at bringing justice home in many of these cases.
Non-reporting rates of sexual assault are also on the rise and this may be due in part to the fact that the criminal justice system has a reputation to not always deal with these cases effectively (Randall, 2010). We also know that many women do not come forward because of the shame associated with being a victim of sexual assault, which, in restorative justice, is an important emotion to unpack. The way some sexual assault cases go through our current justice system provide enough evidence for the need of trauma-informed practices and the inclusion of emotional dynamics in the justice system.
Since there is a clear rationale for incorporating restorative justice practices into the current justice system, what then, is the role of the community? McCold (2010) argues that both the micro-community and macro-community have different functions and roles in the restorative justice process and provides a feasible framework for how restorative justice practices could not only operate within our current justice system, but also aid in meeting the wider needs of society. The micro-community includes the victims’ and offenders’ communities of care—these are the people most directly affected by a particular crime (McCold, 2010). The family members, friends, and others with whom we have meaningful personal relationships are included in the micro-community (McCold, 2010). On the other hand, the macro-community refers to the wider society and the government. McCold (2010) proposes a needs-based theory of restorative justice practice; by focussing on the restorative justice process and its participants—the means, rather than focusing on ends and outcomes—we can appeal to both the interests of the micro- and macro-communities, thereby satisfying the needs of direct stakeholders and the State collectively (McCold, 2010). In doing this, we can achieve what Elliott (2011) refers to as “justice as community development” (Elliott, 2011). Processes of responding to conflict that involve community engagement give us the opportunity to revisit and clarify collective values and norms, and, in turn, strengthen informal social control and social support (Elliot, 2011).
When a crime-occurs, from the micro-community perspective, the crime harms specific people and relationships (McCold, 2010). To some extent, crime harms all of the members of each victims’ and offenders’ micro-communities, making the main purpose of restorative justice to repair the harms within this inner circle. The stakeholders in the micro-community determine the level of harm done and repair needed, instead of the State. “For justice to be done to its fullest extent, every person and every relationship in the victim’s and offender’s micro-community must be restored to well-being” (McCold, 2010 p. 157). A restorative community uses the event of a wrongdoing as an opportunity to strengthen the community and build caring relationships (Pranis, 2001). On the other hand, when a crime occurs, the macro-community is not directly affected, but the crime does create aggregate harm to the macro-community. The macro-community is more concerned with the aggregate effect of crime on society and the resulting loss to public safety; the primary goal is to repair the aggregate effect of crime and limit the threat posed to society, similar to the current justice system’s goals (McCold, 2010). Consequently, from the micro-community view, the means are more important than the ends, whereas the macro-community is primarily concerned with the ends, regardless of what process is used to achieve these outcomes. A macro-community would then have a general one-size-fits-all set of general reparative outcomes for all cases, whereas, the micro-community sees that restorative outcomes cannot be predetermined because there are different circumstances and relative stakeholders in each individual case (McCold, 2010).
It is clear that these two communities have competing interests, with the micro-community representing communities of care and the macro-community representing society and the government. We can think of the micro-community as representing primary stakeholders and the macro-community as representing secondary-stakeholders in the justice system. A needs-based theory of restorative justice focuses on responses that are best able to repair the harm caused by crime in both micro-and macro-community:
In the aftermath of a crime, the local community and the wider society also want assurance that what happened was wrong, something was done about it, offenders were held accountable, relationships were restored, steps were taken to prevent its reoccurrence and that justice was done in every case possible (McCold, 2010, p. 168).
If we know that the best way to achieve this is through restorative justice practices, then active macro-community responses would only impinge on the direct stakeholders’ opportunity for meaningful healing and reparation through restorative justice (McCold, 2010). Thus, in order to bring justice home effectively, it is ultimately the macro-community’s responsibility to develop and support micro-community restorative processes (McCold, 2010). This means that the most important role for secondary-stakeholders is to ensure that restorative justice processes are funded, supported, and readily available to anyone who needs it (McCold, 2010). In this way, the needs of both the micro- and macro-communities can be met; the ripple effect of the micro-community’s restorative practices will in turn achieve the larger society’s goals. As stated by Pranis (2001), we need to “think globally, act locally” (Pranis, 2001, p. 301). “The cumulative effect of all these individual micro-community restorative justice efforts is the most effective means to repair the aggregate harm caused by crime in society” (McCold, 2010, p. 170).
McCold’s (2010) article on the roles of micro- and macro communities in restorative justice provides a workable framework for how restorative justice processes and the State can bring justice home through cooperation and support of one another. These two communities need to be interconnected in order to make real change within our justice system. Restorative justice practices cannot operate optimally without the help of the State through funding and creating readily available programs. We have the knowledge to carry out these practices but we do not have the means, which is where the State can contribute. Similarly, the State’s retributive system is failing in terms of recidivism and the revolving doors of justice and restorative justice practices could help achieve different outcomes. With the assistance of the State, widespread restorative justice practices are more achievable, and, in turn, help work towards the wider goals of the society and the State. As stated by Elliott (2011), the word “community” is derived from the words “common” and “unity” (Elliott, 2011, p. 192). If we unite both the micro- and macro-communities together to achieve common goals, we can bring justice home.
One thing is clear: our current justice system is not optimal. The State criminal justice system is neither trauma-informed nor emotionally intelligent, and, in this way, is actually part of the problem. The effects of shame and trauma are too large to ignore. Restorative justice practices aim for trauma-informed rehabilitation and work around important emotional dynamics to better bring justice home. With a trauma-informed justice system, we can better respond to the needs of Aboriginal offenders, a largely over-represented population at every stage of the justice system. We can also instill a security of care which is largely missing for women who are victims of sexual violence. Utilizing restorative justice practices, we have a better chance at achieving long-lasting solutions because the root causes of crime are addressed and opportunities for healing are provided. Restorative justice expands the circle of stakeholders, providing those who have been victimized, those who have offended, and members of the community active roles and are important in the justice process. It is only through support and collaboration between the micro- and macro-community, that we can turn the vision of restorative justice into a reality.