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The criminal justice system views any crime as a crime committed against the state and places much emphasis on retribution and paying back to the community, through time, fines or community work. Historically punishment has been a very public affair, which was once a key aspect of the punishment process, through the use of the stocks, dunking chair, pillory, and hangman’s noose, although in today’s society punishment has become a lot more private (Newburn, 2007). However it has been argued that although the debt against the state has been paid, the victim of the crime has been left with no legal input to seek adequate retribution from the offender, leaving the victim perhaps feeling unsatisfied with the criminal justice process.
Furthermore can formal social control institutions such as the criminal justice system and the government provide the best aspect of producing conformity and law abiding behaviour? Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory is concerned with what effect formal institutions have on conformity in individuals and in particular, how law abiding behaviour is produced due to these institutions (Walklate, 2005). However Wilson (2007) argues that formal methods of social control such as the criminal justice system are merely there to control and segregate delinquents and offenders who have not had adequate socialisation, which is where social mores are learnt and when conformity is produced, and that an alternative form of social control such as restorative justice might produce more effective results.
The concept of restorative justice was heavily shaped by the work of John Braithwaite (1989) who in turn was inspired by indigenous practices in New Zealand and Australia, whereby the significance of family values was recognised and introduced into criminal and restorative proceedings in helping the offender be reinstated within society (Newburn, 2007). Braithwaite was working with offenders and victims and focusing on ways to reintegrate them back into society through restorative means instead of going through the criminal justice system and the stigmas attached to being labeled a criminal. Before Braithwaite began to develop this idea the punitive justice and penitentiary system had been formerly established since the eighteenth century, when before that informal control measures such as the church, saw communities police themselves (Sharpe, 2002). However with the creation of Thames Valley police force in seventeen ninety-eight, Britain’s first official police force, crime and punishment now become a matter of the state rather than just a community concern. This saw a change in how crime was perceived and criminals dealt with as there were now trained professionals deciding on how best to punish the offender as well as punishments becoming less corporate and more restrictive.
Newburn (2007) state that there are four forms of restorative justice practices victim-offender mediation, family group conferencing as well as healing and sentencing circles and citizen panels. In nineteen-seventy the first official victim- offender mediation programme was established in Canada through a Christian sect with the purpose of aiding the healing of the victims through bringing them together with the offenders and hopefully resolving an appropriate solution. The offender acknowledging and assuming responsibility for their actions and the subsequent consequences is a key aspect of the restorative approach.
Another aspect of restorative justice is family group conferencing which was already being implemented in New Zealand and Australia and concerns the whole family as well as professionals to help make amends to the victim. The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989 officially gave this more precedence and highlighted the relative significance of its effects