Receptivity to restorative justice: A survey of goal importance, process effectiveness, and support for victim–offender conferencing

Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
Receptivity to restorative justice: A survey of goal
importance, process effectiveness, and support for
victimoffender conferencing
Gregory D. Paul
| Emily C. Swan
Department of Communication Studies, Kansas
State University, Manhattan, Kansas
Department of Communication Studies,
Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
Gregory D. Paul, Department of Communication
Studies, Kansas State University, 702 Mid
Campus Drive South, 234 Nichols Hall,
Manhattan, KS 66506.
As the use of restorative justice processes continues to
grow in the West, it is helpful to understand the factors
that influence peoples support for the use of restorative
processes. Working from a conflict goals perspective, this
study explores how support for the use of victimoffender
conferencing following instances of first-time, nonviolent
offending by youth is influenced by perceived importance
of justice outcomes, perceived effectiveness of conven-
tional and restorative processes at accomplishing those
outcomes, and perceived appropriateness of conventional
and restorative processes. It concludes with a discussion
of implications for restorative justice research and
A key focus of restorative justice (RJ) practitioners/advocates over the years has been to increase
awareness, understanding, and support of RJ processes. Similarly, a sizable amount of RJ scholarship
has been devoted to conceptualizing RJ (Daly, 2016; McCold, 2000; Paul & Borton, 2017; Vaander-
ing, 2011), distinguishing it from conventional (retributive) justice (Braithwaite, 2002; Pavlich,
2005; Wenzel, Okimoto, Feather, & Platow, 2010; Zehr, 2002), and evaluating its effectiveness
(Bergseth & Bouffard, 2007; Calhoun & Pelech, 2013; Gabbay, 2005; Latimer, Dowden, & Muise,
2005). These efforts work to increase understanding and support for an approach to justice that, at
least in the West, the public at large may be unaware of, uncertain about, or even resistant toward.
Responsiveness to existing public attitudes toward RJ is a first step toward effective education
and advocacy. Research has explored public attitudes toward RJ generally, restorative processes spe-
cifically, and openness to participating in restorative processes (e.g., Ahlin, Gibbs, Kavanaugh, &
Lee, 2017; Bazemore & Leip, 2000; Paul, 2015; Paul & Schenck-Hamlin, 2017; Roberts & Stalans,
2004). Such attitudes can influence behavior (Ajzen, 2011), are connected with other attitudes
Received: 25 June 2018 Revised: 9 August 2018 Accepted: 14 August 2018
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21238
© 2018 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2018;36:145162. 145
(Perloff, 2010), and are rooted in prior cultural socialization (Okimoto, Wenzel, & Feather, 2009;
Paul & Borton, 2017). Exploring public attitudes toward RJ also can facilitate more strategic advo-
cacy for RJ that could be more persuasive to audiences. Working from a conflict goals perspective
(Canary & Lakey, 2006; Folger, Poole, & Stutman, 2013; Wang, Fink, & Cai, 2012; Wilmot &
Hocker, 2007), effective advocacy that demonstrates how restorative processes can effectively accom-
plish desired justice outcomes can work to build support for the use of RJ processes in communities.
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine public attitudes toward conventional and RJ
outcomes and practices, focusing on attitudes toward victim outcomes, offender outcomes, and
victimoffender interaction. It then connects the perceived importance of those outcomes and pro-
cesses, as well as the perceived effectiveness of conventional and restorative processes, to support the
use of the RJ process of victimoffender conferencing (VOC) in peoples communities. In doing so,
this study aims to contribute to both research and practice. From a research perspective, the study con-
tinues the exploration of attitudes toward RJ and aims to drill down to an elemental level to explore the
factors that influence those RJ attitudes. It is concerned with the questions What do people think
about RJ and why do they think it?By looking at the factors that influence support for RJ, we can
begin to expand our understanding of how RJ attitudes come into being and evolve over time. From a
practice perspective, the study is useful for crafting persuasive messages that will be effective in rein-
forcing, changing, or shaping peoples attitudes toward justice in general and RJ in particular. Design-
ing advocacy messages with audiencesexisting attitudes in mind can enhance the effectiveness of that
advocacy (Perloff, 2010). Moreover, awareness of justice attitudes and beliefs can help facilitators be
more sensitive and responsive to VOC participantsneeds, interests, and concerns. Finally, awareness
of justice attitudes can inform the responsive implementation of RJ practices in various settings (see
Gavin & MacVean, 2018; González, Sattler, & Buth, 2018; Nowotny & Carrara, 2018; Pointer, 2018).
Although there is no common definition of RJ, there is general consensus among researchers that RJ
prioritizes individual, relational, and community restoration, usually through the use of facilitated dia-
logic processes, following a personal harm (Daly, 2016; Gavin & MacVean, 2018; Gavrielides,
2008; Johnstone & Van Ness, 2007; Roberts, 2010; Rugge & Cormier, 2013). A commonly cited def-
inition of RJ frames it as a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offense collectively
resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future(Marshall,
1999, p. 5). Armour and Umbreit (2006) define RJ as an
alternative to the system that advocates retributive justice [that] seeks to elevate the role
of crime victims and community members; hold offenders directly accountable to the
people they have violated; and restore, to the extent possible, the emotional and material
losses of victims by providing a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation, and
problem solving. (p. 123)
The focus on stakeholder participation, personal accountability, and multidimensional repair are
rooted in core values such as personalization, empowerment, reintegration, learning, healing, and
growth (Borton & Paul, 2015; Braithwaite, 1999; Doolin, 2007; Okimoto et al., 2009; Roche, 2003;
Tsui, 2014; Van Ness & Strong, 2010; Zehr & Mika, 2010).
As illustrated by Armour and Umbreits (2006) definition, researchers and practitioners tend to
contrast RJ and conventional justice (often called retributive justice). These contrasts typically

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