This study will analyze the impact of restorative justice on offender health, using a unique dataset from a randomized control trial of restorative justice practices in Australia.
Recent analyses of these data suggest that this use of restorative produced a very sharp reduction in offender mortality over many years. "Restorative justice" remains one of the few evidence-based alternatives to punitive criminal justice approaches to crime. Bringing offenders and victims together in a process of "reintegrative shaming" has been shown in studies in many countries to reduce recidivism and the toll of victimization. Reductions were particularly concentrated among the young violent offenders who had committed the most serious crimes.
The original study included a randomized field experiment; observations of legal proceedings; multi-wave, face-to-face interviews with offenders and their victims; and official data from government sources. Because these findings stem from a well-implemented randomized trial, the direct causal link between restorative and reduced mortality is exceptionally clear. We now know that using restorative justice in response to violent crime can save the lives of the offenders who are exposed to it. What we don't know is why this effect occurred, and what aspects of restorative justice conferences were most important to causing it. Answering these questions could lead to innovations here in the US in criminal procedure and reduce deaths in the exceptionally vulnerable population of criminal offenders. The US has had a long experimentation phase with restorative justice practices, including diversion programs, specialty courts, ceasefire initiatives and others. Demonstrating a positive health impact would add to the policy impetus for effective, therapeutic criminal justice reforms.