Views and attitudes of professionals in the Irish Prison Service to the use of restorative justice practice.
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“Restorative Justice is respect. Respect for all, even those who are different from us; even those who seem to be our enemies. Respect reminds us of our interconnectedness, but also of our differences. Respect insists we balance concerns for all parties. If we pursue justice as respect, we will do justice restoratively.” Howard J. Zehr (1944- ), American Criminologist and pioneer of Restorative Justice Movement.This study set out to explore the attitudes, opinions and views of professionals at seniormanagement level to the use of restorative justice within the Irish Prison Service. The objectives were to examine the professional's understanding and views on the restorative models and approaches. Too explore their professional experience of restorative justice programmes and approaches currently in operation within the prison service. Furthermore, to identify changes and recommendations which are required for the effective delivery and practice of restorative justice within the prison service?This study used a qualitative method of data collection and analysis given the exploratory and broad scope of research. The participants were all senior professionals employed within the Irish Prison Service who kindly consented to be interviewed. Semi-structured interviews were used as they provided an opportunity for the professionals to reflect on their own ideas of restorative justice in a structured prison environment. The sampling method used was a ‘non-probability’ convenience sample. This successfully accessed the professional’s willingness to give their views, opinions and beliefs on restorative justice theories. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and the results thematically analysed.There was a very limited range of literature in the restorative justice area in relation to prisons and especially Irish prisons. What was available was consulted with particular reference to restorative justice approaches in other countries and how Ireland is positioned in relation to them. The main findings of the study were that two pilot schemes have been introduced into Dublinprisons – Wheatfield prison and the Dochas prison (females). This has raised a type of awareness of restorative justice philosophy with selected staff and prisoners. The benefits were a more normalised environment with prisoners having control of what was taking place on their landings. Also cited was the negative perception that prevails, it is far too soon to introduce restorative justice to victims of crime in Irish prisons. It must have mechanisms in place to facilitate this avenue of restorative justice. It did transpire that all professionals interviewed appeared to have differing views and perceptions of varying aspects of restorative justice. The recommendations included the need to raise the level of awareness for all staff and prisoners. To distinguish the different between restorative justice and restorative practices and to put the latter on a more formal recognised basis. To acknowledge the parts the communities have to play in restorative justice and the need for more interaction with them. Moreinvolvement of external agencies and the type of roles they can play in the implementation ofrestorative justice. Also cited was the need for prison staff to become more involved in sentence planning, especially the class officers on a landing. Policy direction from Government personnel and the need for senior management to “buy in” to any restorative practices was also highlighted. This would ensure successful implementation of any restorative justice projects. Finally, the spirit to develop further restorative justice schemes in prisons was very evident in the study with a particular aspect relating to the selection criteria that would be available for all concerned.
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