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Article

Access_open Retribution, restoration and the public dimension of serious wrongs

Journal The International Journal of Restorative Justice, Issue 1 2022
Keywords public wrongs, R.A. Duff, agent-relative values, criminalisation, punishment
Authors Theo van Willigenburg
AbstractAuthor's information

    Restorative justice has been criticised for not adequately giving serious consideration to the ‘public’ character of crimes. By bringing the ownership of the conflict involved in crime back to the victim and thus ‘privatising’ the conflict, restorative justice would overlook the need for crimes to be treated as public matters that concern all citizens, because crimes violate public values, i.e., values that are the foundation of a political community. Against this I argue that serious wrongs, like murder or rape, are violations of agent-neutral values that are fundamental to our humanity. By criminalising such serious wrongs we show that we take such violations seriously and that we stand in solidarity with victims, not in their capacity as compatriots but as fellow human beings. Such solidarity is better expressed by organising restorative procedures that serve the victim’s interest than by insisting on the kind of public condemnation and penal hardship that retributivists deem necessary ‘because the public has been wronged’. The public nature of crimes depends not on the alleged public character of the violated values but on the fact that crimes are serious wrongs that provoke a (necessarily reticent) response from government officials such as police, judges and official mediators.


Theo van Willigenburg
Theo van Willigenburg is Research Fellow at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Faculteit Religie en Theologie, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Corresponding author: Theo van Willigenburg at t.van.willigenburg@vu.nl.
Article

Restorative justice as empowerment: how to better serve the goals of punitive retribution

Journal The International Journal of Restorative Justice, Issue 2 2018
Keywords Restorative justice, retributive punishment, empowerment of victims, restoring dignity and autonomy in survivors of crime
Authors Theo van Willigenburg
AbstractAuthor's information

    Restorative justice practices are applied only to the margins of criminal justice systems. These systems generally punish the wrongdoer in order to give him his ‘just desert’. For restorative justice to be more attractive, we need to understand why punitive retribution is such a powerful motive. If the scales of justice are out of balance because of suffering inflicted (to the offended), why would the infliction of more suffering (to the offender) bring redemption? It is argued that much of the sting of being harmed by an offender derives from the identity implications of the act. Punitive retribution may satisfy short-lasting vindictive desires, but its main symbolic function is to restore the victim’s self-image and dignity by humiliating the perpetrator. This is done in a notoriously indirect and ineffective way, though. It is argued that restorative justice can do much better, if it is understood in terms of empowering the offended. This involves procedures that restore the victim’s autonomy, prestige and self-confidence. Apart from bringing the offended back into the driver’s seat of the process, restorative justice empowers the survivors of crime by helping them face offenders, face themselves and face their community. Restorative justice is not only much more rewarding than punitive retribution, it also provides better ways of communicating personal and public disapproval of crime.


Theo van Willigenburg
Theo van Willigenburg is resident research fellow at VU University Amsterdam and director of the Kant Academy, Utrecht (The Netherlands). Contact author: vanwilligenburg@kantacademy.nl.
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