Skip to start of content

HomeReportsRestorative justice programs in Australia → Effective extension of restorative justice programs

CRC funded reports

Effective extension of restorative justice programs

Published in: Restorative justice programs in Australia : a report to the Criminology Research Council
Heather Strang
March 2001

Before considering the means by which programs could be extended a prior question concerns the desirability of doing so. It is early days for restorative justice: it may be the oldest way of conflict and dispute resolution, but it is only a decade since such programs began to be mainstreamed, and a much shorter timeframe in which evaluation studies have been conducted.

Even in relation to programs in the justice setting, where most of the evaluative research has taken place, we do not know yet very much about how effective the restorative approach may prove to be in reducing reoffending; this is especially difficult to estimate when programs are mostly directed at a population of offenders whose offences are minor and criminal careers brief. Large claims of 'success' among those who may never have reoffended anyway confuse and distract policymakers. RISE, the randomised controlled trial being conducted in the ACT, has recently shed important light on this subject: as we mentioned above, it found that while the Canberra conferencing program did no better than court for juvenile property offenders, and actually resulted in a slightly worse rate for drink driving offenders, it worked most effectively for young violent offenders who had been assigned to a conference, whose rate of reoffending was 38 percent lower than those assigned to court (Sherman et al 2000).

We already know that concerns exist about the potential for netwidening, for inadequate protection of offender rights in the context of non-judicial processing, and for conferences to be potentially coercive settings especially for young people (Warner 1994). They may be unduly intrusive and have the potential to impose harsher outcomes than would be meted out in court (Wundersitz 1996). They also may lack consistency and proportionality because of the focus on harm to the victim (Mason 2000). Concerns have also been expressed about the coercion of victims (see for example Reeves & Mulley 2000). However, results from RISE (Sherman et al 1998, Strang et al 1999) indicate that for the victims and offenders themselves, these considerations do not weigh heavily: both parties consistently report that they view conferencing as fairer than court and victims consistently indicate that they are more satisfied with conferencing than with court.

In the event that restorative justice programs prove worthy of extension beyond their present scope, experience to date indicate a number of issues that need to be addressed:

All these considerations would apply equally to the extension of restorative alternatives in welfare, school and other settings. We need assurance about their effectiveness through the conduct of rigorous evaluation studies, ongoing consultation with all the agencies whose cooperation is essential for the programs' viability and genuine consultation with Aboriginal and ethnic groups who feel especially marginalised in their dealings with government and whose input is essential to the success of the program.

If you see this message you are probably using an old browser: these pages should be readable, but we recommend updating to a modern browser.