Volume 18, Issue 1/2, 2009
Getting and Keeping It Real
Less than Perfect Restorative Justice Intervention and the Value of Small Connections
Despite a wide range of restorative practices in use around the world, most recent research has been focused on one model, family group conferencing. In part due to the salience and appeal of Braithwaite’s reintegrative shaming theory, this important emphasis on the role of structured dialogue with family and intimates privileges an emotional connection that elicits reintegrative shame on the part of the offender, accompanied by group support. In this paper, I argue that reintegrative shaming as practiced in family group conferencing in the youth justice (juvenile justice) context is based on a theory of “strong ties” associated with the extended families of Gemeinschaft societies. This important emphasis on the family/extended family unit as an affective focus, however, may have inadvertently diverted attention from the importance in Gessellschaft societies of “weak ties.” In modernity, such ties provide instrumental support that leads to connections that link offenders and victims to broader “bridging” relationships associated with social and human capital. This paper briefly considers two ostensibly “weak” restorative practices that effectively engage these broader connections for young offenders and families that may be fundamental to reintegration and other prosocial outcomes, while also mobilizing and strengthening the parochial controls and social support of neighbors and other adults. Ultimately, the sustainability of restorative justice will require an openness to practices that accomplish restorative goals, while also facilitating a more flexible, problem solving, and community-building focus.