The now pervasive use of restorative justice within the criminal justice system in Victoria is an ambitious initiative whose primary objective is to respond to key prerequisites of victims and society. In particular, restorative justice lays emphasis on victim’s’ needs and expectations while, at the same time, seeking to transform the offender. It also creates a unique opportunity for the victim and offender to meet in a controlled environment to discuss the impact of the offence and how to deal with accompanying reverberations. The more recent application of restorative justice processes in Victoria for domestic and family violence represents a profound shift in perspective. It is a clear indication that restorative justice is now regarded as an instrumental policy capable of addressing serious crimes such assault.
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The Victorian Family Violence Restorative Justice Framework is one such charter whose primary objective is to foster restorative dialogue between victim survivors and offenders. This initiative provides support to victims as they acknowledge the adverse effects occasioned by their ordeal, thus allowing them to validate their experience. The use of restorative justice within the context of domestic and family violence represents an emerging policy capable of addressing major challenges within the criminal justice system.
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The growing need for Restorative Justice for Domestic and Family Violence Cases
Domestic and family violence cases represent some of the most serious crimes within the criminal justice system in Victoria. Yet, an unprecedented number of incidences still go unreported which then makes it difficult to quantify an exact measure of its pervasiveness. The fact that a majority of the cases occur in the privacy of people’s homes also hinders attempts by victims to file formal complaints (Strang 2017). However, restorative justice offers victim a unique opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process of dealing with such cases devoid of worries about its impact on their family. The implementation of restorative justice processes in Victoria for domestic and family violence cases also attempts to address low prosecution rates that are often the result of lack of evidence or the withdrawal of statements by key witnesses. Furthermore, restorative justice addresses deficiencies of the criminal justice system by primarily seeking to address victim’s needs. This is done through the provision of comprehensive information regarding the entire process while offering a platform where victims are treated respectfully by offenders. A policy towards the implementation of restorative justice process in domestic and family violence cases is also essential when seeking to foster empathy within the wider criminal justice system.
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Strengths and weaknesses
The application of RJ processes to address domestic and family violence cases has been hailed as a novel development bound to introduce cumulative gains within the criminal justice system in Victoria. It is widely regarded as an invaluable policy capable of reducing the recidivism rate while reducing costs associated the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to acknowledge its advantages are in respect to the ‘process’ and not outcomes. This is a clear indication of RJ processes distinctive strengths and weakness.
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One of the principal strengths of RJ processes in the orbit of domestic and family violence cases lies in its ability to create a sense of satisfaction in participants. According to Dzur (2016), participants in restorative justice mediation programs often leave conferences feeling contented owing to their perception of fairness within the entire process. It is also through such sentiments that victims are able to move on from the incident and reduce feelings of contempt towards offenders. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for both parties to gain an unadulterated view of their problems as a precursor to developing workable and constructive solutions. Victims are, therefore, bound to be empowered by a mediated program since it gives them a voice within a safe setting. This results in a meaningful dialogue which ultimately restores their sense of security and confidence.
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The restorative justice process also provides a framework that, not only endeavors to benefit the victim, but also the offender. During conferences, offenders meet their victims or victim representatives to communicate candidly regarding events which brought them to that particular juncture. The RJ process is essentially intended to provide an alternative to traditional punitive measures by changing the demeanor of specific offenders and transforming them into law-abiding citizens (Johnstone 2014). It is also through the RJ process that offenders learn to practice positivism in the quest to turn over a new leaf. Mediation conferences provide offenders with an opportunity to offer sincere apologies to victims of their actions. It also aids them to gain a proper understanding of the impact of their actions thus increasing their level of empathy. Moreover, it also offers offenders an opportunity to change by enrolling in programs meant to limit antisocial behavior while helping them to change their lives.
The chief weakness of the RJ process is the impracticable manner in which conditions seeking to foster participation in mediation conferences are set. This is often due to the criminal justice system’s failure to carefully evaluate the status of both parties before commencing with proceedings. Furthermore, coordinators typically fail to prepare them emotionally for the encounter which ultimately exposes them to hazards of attending such proceedings without adequate planning. Time constraints also prevent victims from acquainting themselves with the process and its goals. Additionally, mediation conferences often fail to take victim’s psychological state into account and may result in post-traumatic stress caused by memories of the incident.
The restorative justice process also fails to take competing interests into account which then creates loopholes for future catastrophe. Interests of stakeholders, victims, and offenders all come into play during this delicate process and may create a dilemma for all parties involved due to flagrant incompatibilities. According to (Richards 2014), the idea that victims and offenders will be assimilated into ‘a socially inclusive community’ is unrealistic since it assumes that the interests of both parties are always reconcilable (p.142). Restorative justice processes may also fail to meet victims’ interests and requirements, resulting in secondary victimization for offenders who fail admit culpability for the crime committed. Failure to acknowledge power dynamics in domestic and family violence cases within an informal setting may also put victims the risk of retaliation due to an ongoing relationship.