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

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Restorative justice practices are only applied 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 survivors of crime by making them face offenders, face themselves, and face their community. Punitive retribution may be satisfying for those offended and for the general public, but restorative justice can ultimately be much more rewarding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-291
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Restorative Justice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • restorative justice
  • retributive punishment
  • empowerment of victims
  • restoring relations


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