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Benefits for Offenders

Offenders are encouraged to participate in the RJ encounter by listening to the victims’ stories, telling their own stories and expressing their feelings, becoming accountable by acknowledging their responsibility and engaging in the development of reparative agreements. The possibility to share their story is crucial, since storytelling is fundamental to create meaning, which is necessary to process what has happened in one’s life. On the one hand it requires to acknowledge the hurtful things they have done to others, but at the same time also to acknowledge the hurtful things that have been done to them (Zehr, 2003).

Most offenders have been victims too and much violence is an expression of grievance response to experienced violence and the resulting traumatic experience (Fattah, 1994). Feelings of shame and pain can lead to offending behaviour (Gilligan, 1996), when the underlying trauma has not been adequately dealt with (Zehr 2003).

Thus, restorative approaches can help offenders start their own healing journey in life, creating meaning of what has happened, transforming these (hi-)stories into “stories of dignity and courage” as they face the past and work towards a different future (Zehr, 2003). On the other hand, traditional retributive justice and punishment can be seen as an “added victimization” and that victimization of those who have victimized you is acceptable (Fattah, 1994).

An aim of restorative approaches to justice should always be to work towards integration and reintegration, offering offenders an opportunity to become part of society again, or maybe for the first time (Van Ness, 1986). It offers them also the opportunity to prove that they can serve as positive assets to the community. This leads to a transformation of their life stories, opening doors for a different future. Consequently, this helps offenders to “avoid criminal subcultures, and the labelling process that goes along with it” (Braithwhaite, 1998). Particularly in the case of young people, or depending on the chosen approach, they might be allowed to choose people to support them during this process. This may include family members, friends, teachers, social services, etc. Offenders, thus, are provided with different kinds of support that help them to break out of old patterns and find new ways of dealing with difficulties.

These restorative approaches teach offenders many social skills as they learn to listen empathetically, share their own story and become aware of their own and other’s emotions, learn to acknowledge harm done and experienced, accept responsibility and make restitution.

Part of the process is to affirm the innate worth and dignity of offenders. This can have a very therapeutic effect since much violence grows out of dignity violations, lack of respect and ontological security. In restorative processes, they do not need to earn respect, since the processes are based on values that make sure that everyone is treated with worth, respect and dignity.

RJ programs that function within the criminal justice system are often narrower in their scope and less holistic in their approach. They often mainly concentrate on the offender making reparation of some sort, according to the type of offense committed. However, depending on the approach, such a program may lack full involvement of all stakeholders, as well as the required emphasis on healing and reintegration.

RJ-Programme, die innerhalb des Strafrechtssystems funktionieren, sind oft eingeschränkter in ihrem Umfang und weniger ganzheitlich in ihrem Ansatz. Oft konzentrieren sie sich hauptsächlich auf den Täter, der nach begangener Straftat Wiedergutmachung vornimmt. Je nach Ansatz kann es daher sein, dass ein solches Programm nicht die volle Beteiligung aller Betroffenen und auch nicht die erforderlichen Schwerpunkte von Heilung und Wiedereingliederung beinhaltet.

Regarding recidivism and desistance from crime, Robinson and Shapland state that RJ processes can favor an intrinsic motivation in offenders to desist from criminal behavior. This means that they take a personal decision to desist from offending, which leads to a reduction in the recidivism rate and thus a reduction of crime. The reason for this is that many offenders choose to participate in an RJ encounter because they see it as a way of helping them with their decision to desist from crime. The opportunity to express their feelings of shame and guilt may be more meaningful in their desistance process than being shamed by others. Further, it is fundamental to offer appropriate resources for reintegration- such as the possibility to develop social and human capital - in order to keep in motion their process of desistance (Robinson & Shapland, 2008).