3.1 Research Issues
In the present criminal justice environment of rapid change, research is essential to the success of any new movement or ‘wave’ such as restorative justice (Bonta, Wallace-Capretta & Rooney, 1998; La Prairie, 1999). Unfortunately, empirical scrutiny of the outcomes of such movements are rarely encouraged. What do we actually know about the effectiveness of restorative programming? And how do we define success?
There are several obvious definitions of a successful program. First, since public safety remains the paramount concern of the criminal justice system, programs should attempt to reduce recidivism. If a program were to actually increase the chances of further criminal behaviour, most would agree that this would not be a success. Second, the needs of victims should be adequately addressed. This is easily measured through controlled experiments testing the satisfaction levels of victims in the traditional system compared to a restorative program. Third, the effects of a program on the community should be considered. For example, does the program reduce fear of crime and increase the perception of safety within a neighbourhood?
The effects of restorative justice are not solely limited to the participants. The criminal justice system, as a whole, may be significantly affected by the proliferation of restorative practices. First, what are the financial costs associated with restorative justice programming compared to traditional responses to crime? Second, how are the roles of the actors within the justice system affected? It is reasonable to assume, for example, that the options now available to a police officer or crown attorney when dealing with an offender are different with the increasing accessibility to restorative justice programming. It is also reasonable to assume that the role of duty counsel will be affected as more cases are diverted away from the courts. Will parole decision makers be more likely to grant parole to an offender who has participated in a pre-release restorative justice program? And should this be a factor? Third, the collection of crime statistics will ultimately be affected by the increasing number of pre-judicial alternatives available to offenders. Currently, crime statistics are collected primarily through official court surveys and police charge data. As more and more criminal behaviour is dealt with outside the system, the accuracy of the official data becomes questionable. It is useful to organise these outcomes using the following overarching framework.
There are also a number of moderating variables that may affect the outcomes and processes of restorative justice programs and should therefore be examined. Ideally, the most comprehensive method of synthesising the literature would be through the use of metaanalytic techniques. Unfortunately, there is not an adequate number of studies using comparison groups to invest the necessary resources at this time. Table 3.2 highlights a number of moderating variables that could be examined in the future. Each one of these variables can ultimately affect the outcomes of a program. For example, the age of the offender and the seriousness of the offence might be related to recidivism rates or victim satisfaction rates. Or the level of training of the mediator and the involvement of family members might...