By Ted Wachtel
The most compelling reason to support restorative justice is for the benefit of victims. Research suggests that victim needs alone provide sufficient justification to hold restorative conferences—even it does not reduce re-offending,
Dr. Caroline M. Angel, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S, studied the impact of restorative conferencing on post-traumatic stress symptoms in victims of burglary and robbery in London, U.K.
Angel conducted interviews with the subjects to assess their level of psychological stress both six weeks and six months following the conferences. The indicators she measured are the kinds of symptoms crime victims report having, sometimes for many years after the incident:
- intrusive memories of the crime
- difficulty sleeping
- feelings of anger
- physical symptoms
One group of test subjects participated in restorative conferences, in which a trained facilitator brings together victims, offenders, and their supporters to talk about how they have been affected by the incident.
“The most striking thing was that conferences reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. Six months after the crime, victims who participated in conferences reported forty percent less stress than those who did not participate. “What you have here is a one-time program that’s effective in producing benefits for the majority of people…I thought that was an incredibly important public health benefit.”
Most criminal justice professionals will tell you that they aim to reduce crime. In truth, that is very difficult to accomplish and rarely happens. So, if we can’t reliably reduce crime, Caroline Angel’s research tells us that for a modest cost, we could reliably reduce the impact of crime.
Not like in the U.K. where only 4.2 percent of victims are offered the opportunity; not like in the U.S., where there are a few scattered cases in a few scattered jurisdictions; but on a systematic basis, like New Zealand.
Every crime victim deserves a chance for restorative justice.