In the next St. John’s Public Lecture in Philosophy on March 27, 2007, sociology professor Dr. Scott Kenney will examine whether restorative justice is the peacemaking process it’s cracked up to be.
Dr. Kenney has a background in criminology and victimology. In this public talk, he will argue that despite the rhetoric surrounding it, the restorative justice approach, as he’s observed it, does not do away with the adversarial process – rather, it produces a different kind of adversarial process.
According to Dr. Kenney, restorative justice has been increasingly used since it emerged as a hot concept a few decades ago. While not yet widely practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador in a criminal context, Dr. Kenney believes that interest in it is growing.
He contends, however, that the approach has been mired in rhetoric and needs further examination.
“The argument has been that the existing criminal justice system is damaging, that it makes problems worse because it is so heavily focused on punishment,” he said of the traditional system, which pits the state against the accused, and offers no role for the victim except as a witness.
Restorative justice, on the other hand, is touted as more constructive, bringing the offender and victim together to mediate a solution.
In an attempt to understand what happens in restorative justice sessions, Dr. Kenney and Dr. Don Clairmont, a sociologist and criminologist at Dalhousie University, attended 24 sessions in 2003 and 2004 in Nova Scotia, which has a very ambitious restorative justice program in place.
The process usually involves an exchange between the victim, the offender, their supporters and a facilitator. Unlike in a mediation where both sides come to the table as equals, Dr. Kenney explained, in this process one person has the disadvantage of having been labelled the offender, while the victim has the upper hand, at least at the onset. “That sets up a situation in which both sides start sparring about who’s the bigger victim.”
Often, offenders tend toward what Dr. Kenney calls the ‘I’ve suffered, so don’t make it any worse’ syndrome, while victims then counter with how much they’ve suffered as a result of the offender’s actions. “It becomes an adversarial process centred around who’s the bigger victim.”
Dr. Kenney will outline these observations and invite questions and discussion when he offers Restorative Justice: Shape-shifting the Adversarial Process on Tuesday, March 27 at the Ship Pub off Duckworth Street at 8:30 p.m. All are welcome (over age 19).