The Other Voice in the Room: Restorative Justice Facilitators' Constructions of Justice

Date01 March 2014
Published date01 March 2014
The Other Voice in the Room: Restorative Justice
Facilitators’ Constructions of Justice
Gregory D. Paul
Julia A. Dunlop
Restorative justice represents an approach to managing confl ict initiated
by a wrongdoing that focuses on restoring the participants materially,
psychologically, and relationally. Restorative interventions usually
involve facilitators who act as experts in helping the parties manage
their confl ict restoratively.  ey also help participants understand how
restorative justice diff ers from traditional justice and what restorative
justice looks like. However, we lack an understanding of how facilita-
tors conceptualize justice in the fi rst place. Drawing on interviews with
facilitators, this study identifi es facilitators’ justice constructions during
victim-off ender conferences. Together, these constructions constitute a
multidimensional, multilayered model of justice in victim-off ender
O enses have a number of negative consequences for victims, off end-
ers, and the community at large, including anger (Barclay, Skarlicki,
and Pugh 2005; Worthington 2003; Worthington and Wade 1999), avoid-
ance (McCullough, Root, and Cohen, 2006; Worthington and Wade
1999), and relational damage (Okimoto, Wenzel, and Feather 2009;
Zechmeister and Romero 2002). Although the dominant approach in the
United States is to manage these consequences legalistically (i.e., through
the traditional justice system), a growing movement that emphasizes a
restorative approach is occurring. At the heart of this approach is an
assumption that crime begets inherently personal confl ict among stake-
holder groups (Armour and Umbreit 2005; Wenzel et al. 2008). It also
C R Q, vol. 31, no. 3, Spring 2014 257
© Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21091
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
assumes that the most constructive way to manage confl ict is to bring
interested stakeholders together to engage in dialogue about the implica-
tions of the confl ict (Borton 2009).  us, viewing wrongdoing from a
restorative perspective involves privileging the dialogic management of
social, emotional, and material dimensions of confl ict initiated by a harm-
ful act committed by one party against another.
Although this approach ostensibly stands in contrast to the traditional
justice paradigm (Armour and Umbreit 2006; Braithwaite 1999, 2002;
Johnstone 2002; Zehr 2002), there are areas of commonality (Daly 2002;
Pavlich 2005; Zernova 2007). For example, both systems emphasize the
importance of procedural justice through consistent application of rules as
a way to heighten the parties’ sense of fairness (Bies and Shapiro 1988;
Tyler 2006; Tyler and Lind 1992; Wenzel et al. 2008).  is emphasis on
procedures is evident in victim-off ender conferences (VOCs) that bring
parties together to manage the confl ict.
Helping to guide the parties’ interaction are facilitators who act osten-
sibly as restorative justice “experts.”  e little research that explores how
facilitators enact justice in the context of VOCs typically positions them
as “masters of ceremonies,” “hosts,” and “directors.” Although their actions
sometimes go unnoticed (Dignan et al. 2007; Umbreit, Coates, and Vos
2007), their infl uence on the interaction as the other voice in the room
should not be understated, particularly given their role as “custodians of
restorative justice values” (Dignan et al., 2007, 13).
At the heart of the restorative approach is the core value of justice
(Braithwaite and Strang 2001). Although Western conceptualizations of jus-
tice tend to frame it as universalistic and rationalistic (Warnke, 1992), few
people seem to be able to agree on what it means and looks like (Boulding
1988; Vaandering 2011).  is lack of agreement likely stems from its con-
textual grounding as a social construct that infl uences and is infl uenced by
individuals’ communication with one another.  at is, justice seems better
conceptualized as a situated social construct whose defi nition changes not
only by person but also by situation (Frey et al. 1996; Warnke 1992;
Winslade 2005).  us, VOCs represent sites where all participants (includ-
ing facilitators) negotiate and enact their sense of distributive (i.e., out-
come), procedural, and interpersonal justice as they communicate with
one another. Facilitators can exert a particularly strong infl uence on this
negotiation and enactment simply by virtue of their position. As such,
their justice constructions can infl uence how participants enact and evalu-
ate the outcomes, process, and interaction constituting VOCs.

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