The “Sifting” of Restorative Justice in International Policies

Brunilda Pali


Criminology is trying to come to terms with coexisting different tendencies of punishment such as the so-called ‘punitive turn’ characterised by the rise of imprisonment and with the proliferation of so-called alternative social control agencies and approaches dealing with crime. One way to make sense of the existing contradictions has been the notion of ‘bifurcation’, which is based on the idea that more punitive and custodial sanctions are used for a particular type of offenders and offences while alternative and noncustodial sanctions – among which it is argued lies restorative justice – are used for another type, namely minor crimes and low-risk, first-time, and ‘deserving’ offenders. Although the notion of bifurcation appears intuitive, rather than talking about offenses, offenders, or penal sanctions as if they could be divided into two distinct types, my 3-years research project “Restorative utopias in dystopian times: The shaping of restorative justice in the European penal systems and policies” moves beyond theories of bifurcation, towards a mode of analysis that investigates complex rationalities and mechanisms that coexist in penal systems, by using restorative justice as a case study. The presentation will focus on the first results of the project, which aimed to identify through discourse analysis the sifting mechanisms and rationalities of restorative justice in international policies (UN, CoE, EU). The analogy of sifting alludes especially to the notion of ‘appropriateness’ (or eligibility, compatibility), but also notions like safeguards, principles, conditions, given that these notions come to define restorative justice’s limits and possibilities. The identification of such mechanisms and rationalities is important not only to understand the shaping of restorative justice within penal systems and policies, but also to shed light on its future development.


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