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Restorative justice is a gift to bullies There should be consequences for bad behaviour

Two school kids fight in a dark passageway of their school, almost silhouette.

Two school kids fight in a dark passageway of their school, almost silhouette.


May 15, 2023   5 mins

Last month, a 20-year-old lad on a boozy night out in Coventry vandalised the famous bronze statue that adorns the front of Coventry Cathedral. ‘St Michael’s Victory over the Devil’ by Jacob Epstein depicts the saint, spear in hand, wings proudly unfurled, standing astride the Devil lying defeated on the floor.

Some seven metres in height, it’s a super-confident portrayal of the triumph of good over evil, made in 1958 by a Jewish sculptor who lived in London throughout the Nazi murder of Jews in Europe.

But Coventry Cathedral famously stands for a more nuanced way of dealing with wrongdoing. On November 14, 1940, much of the city centre — and, notably, its medieval cathedral — was destroyed by a massive air raid of 500 German bombers. The rebuilt landmark, which last year marked the 60th anniversary of its consecration, was intended as a sentinel of peace and forgiveness.

Carved into the red sandstone of the original cathedral’s bombed-out altar — and behind a replica Cross of Nails created from the destroyed building’s charred roof timbers — is an inscription in foot-high letters: “Father Forgive”.

The Cathedral, then, is home to a vigorous ministry of reconciliation. And it was in this same spirit that its authorities decided to deal with the man who vandalised their statue.

Instead of pressing charges, they arranged a meeting with the vandal. It would be an opportunity for him to take responsibility for his actions. As Canon Mary Gregory, the Canon for Arts and Reconciliation at Coventry, says: “It was not easy for the person who damaged the statue to come to the Cathedral and apologise. Instead of seeking revenge, we choose the more challenging path of forgiveness and growing understanding.”

A few miles south of the Cathedral is Finham Park School. They, like a great many schools around the country, have opted for a restorative justice approach to bad behaviour. According to Detective Inspector Stew Lewis from Coventry CID, “restorative justice is powerful in that in enables [victims] to speak directly to offenders about the harm their actions have caused, while allowing those responsible to show remorse and look to make amends”.

Practitioners of restorative justice believe punishment doesn’t work, and that words such as “consequences” are to be distrusted as euphemisms for crass retribution. 

As someone who was regularly beaten at school from the age of seven, with the headmaster’s extensive collection of canes, and often going to bed with blood in my underpants, I have a deep, visceral, and not entirely rational, dislike of “consequences”. But I still can’t adjust myself to a school without any consequences — not least because I can’t work out what sort of protection this affords to those who are affected by the bad behaviour of others.

The big idea is that “RJ”, as it is known to its fans, offers a way of rebuilding relationships within the school community. Instead of a detention, misbehaving students are offered an opportunity for conversation or a meeting with their victims.

In the words of one teacher, “RJ is about getting students to understand the harm they have caused, rather than blaming them”. Retributive justice is concerned with punishment and penalty, restorative justice with restitution and restoring community relationships.

Sounds great. And RJ is not just increasingly popular in secondary education. In primary schools around the UK, “consequences” for bad behaviour are being replaced by restorative practices such as “circle time”, in which all parties are brought together in the round and invited to share their thoughts with the group.

Thus, the school bully is encouraged to meet the person they have bulled, to hear how the victim feels about what has been done to them, and to apologise for what they have done. The lion lays down with the lamb. Reconciliation is achieved without punishment.

Proponents argue restorative justice is a way of doing things with children, not to them. It is all about building collaborative behaviour between pupils and teachers. Not so much “this is my classroom and I’m in charge” from the teachers, but “this is our classroom”.

But… what if the bully enjoys this process? Gets a bit of a kick out of hearing the pain he has caused? What if he quietly smirks to himself, knowing that his charade of an apology is a frictionless fast-track back into school? What a travesty of justice this would be — the victim being re-bullied, within the very process that is meant to bring them some kind of resolution.

And the victim may not want to have to explain how the bullying made them feel. That is pretty exposing stuff, after all. I can imagine the victim coming away from such a meeting thinking that the whole school has secretly co-operated with the person who has made their life hell.

Do teachers really have the training, or the time, to replace punishment with some sort of quasi-therapeutic social environment? Daniel Buck, a teacher from the US, recently posted on Twitter:

“There were these two girls, one of them was from an abusive household, the other one her Dad had just died. They had a whole bunch of stuff going on in their lives and they kept nipping at each other, insulting each other online and bringing it to school. One of my administrators said: ‘Maybe you should sit down and have a restorative conversation with them”. I’m a 29-year-old dude with no training in counselling. You think that’s going to go well? Bringing up all of this really intense emotion, that’s going to end terribly. I don’t have the skill set for that. It’s probably very unethical, too, asking me to do something way outside of my training.”

But it’s not just the practical aspects of RJ that ought to be interrogated more deeply. There is a troubling philosophical aspect to it all.

Michel Foucault, the philosopher who made his name pointing out the iron fist of punishment inside the velvet glove of therapy and behaviour management, would have had a field day with the potential manipulations of restorative justice. His great 1975 book, Discipline and Punishment, begins with a contrast between two sorts of penal systems: that of the violent 18th century, with its tortures and executions, and the apparently more ‘humanitarian’ reform into prison and incarceration that comes about in the 19th century. But Foucault sees more than humanitarian progress here. He exposes the prison system as a deepening of control and the advent of a society dominated by surveillance.

Restorative justice can be understood in Foucauldian terms as the interiorisation of subjection. Something that looks more humanitarian and people-centred, but something that introduces subtle new forms of subjective domination. With RJ, the therapeutic circle becomes a new form of social discipline.

What makes me especially uncomfortable is the unleashing of all this psychological power — the therapeutic techniques, the mobilisation of shame — within primary schools where the children are so young, they are often unable to resist being manipulated. A small child being asked whether they want to accept the apology of their bully is so suggestible at that age, one really must question whether they have the emotional wherewithal to agree. Or, indeed, to apologise and seek restoration and forgiveness.

As with the Coventry example, forgiveness is the guiding spirit behind RJ. And when it happens properly, it is a beautiful thing. But it has to be carefully handled, and a healthy degree of scepticism is imperative. Any sense that the victim has some sort of obligation to forgive will create eddies of harm that radiate out.

Take an extreme example: imagine we introduced, however subtly, some sort of social expectation that victims of rape should find a way to forgive their attackers. Here, forgiveness can easily become another way of inflicting damage.

It is hard to know how deeply ensconced the philosophy of RJ has become in our school system. Local authorities like it partly because it lowers the number of school exclusions and relives them of the headache of having to make provision for excluded children. If bullies can say sorry and be “rehabilitated”, it probably saves the council a lot of money.

But is it working? At their most recent conference, the teaching union NASUWT reported that more than one in ten of their teachers had been physically assaulted by a pupil during the last year. They had also been subjected to pushing/shoving (22%), threats of physical assault (19%) and verbal abuse (58%).

It is easy to worry that the withdrawal of “consequences” in our schools is having very damaging consequences in the classroom. Indiscipline can affect a teacher’s confidence, leaving them feeling helpless and disempowered. The knock-on effects on lost teaching time are left to ripple silently across society.

Perhaps we need a touch more of St Michael’s robust attitude to the Devil than the punishment-averse psychology of restorative justice.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Joseph Wein
Joseph Wein
1 year ago

The biggest problem with progressive policies is that they fail to take into account human nature. Indeed it often feels as if progressives have never met any actual humans.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

Yes. In the end it depends on whether you think we are born virtuous and corrupted by society or whether we are born savage and have to be socialised. I started out believing the former but after nearly sixty years of observing human behaviour I’m firmly in the latter camp.

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

We are all animals. Bottom line. Children are feral, as sweet as they can be, as wonderful as they can be, they are feral and require socialization the same way a puppy does.

We love puppies, they are great, but you raise one the wrong way and you can end up with a dangerous or neurotic dog. Raise them the wrong way and they can become spoiled and destructive. The first type almost invariably need to be restrained or put down. The second type are a misery to live with and are miserable dogs. Raise them the right way and you have a warm, happy and wonderful companion for as long as they live.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of physical adults that were not raised properly and are essentially feral or spoiled or both.

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Lord of the Flies. I’ve always said give kids a month without adult supervision and consequence, and they’d be reenacting the pig’s head on a stick.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kenda Grant
Daniel P
Daniel P
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

We are all animals. Bottom line. Children are feral, as sweet as they can be, as wonderful as they can be, they are feral and require socialization the same way a puppy does.

We love puppies, they are great, but you raise one the wrong way and you can end up with a dangerous or neurotic dog. Raise them the wrong way and they can become spoiled and destructive. The first type almost invariably need to be restrained or put down. The second type are a misery to live with and are miserable dogs. Raise them the right way and you have a warm, happy and wonderful companion for as long as they live.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of physical adults that were not raised properly and are essentially feral or spoiled or both.

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Lord of the Flies. I’ve always said give kids a month without adult supervision and consequence, and they’d be reenacting the pig’s head on a stick.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kenda Grant
Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

They’ve been dehumanised by technology. When you withdraw from society (because you are a lost soul, a coward or a bully) and hide behind a computer screen, you lose your humanity. Human generative progress is good. Tech-driven ideological “progress” is dystopian and doomed to fail.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

Yes, you can just imagine a stop oil protester who has blocked the road leading to the premature death of someone in an ambulance earnestly explaining to their relative how devastated they are over the consequence of their actions but still protesting that it was done to save the future of all humanity. We are very good at justifying our own crimes to ourselves.

One of the greatest crimes against humanity – the drive for a judenrein Germany – proceeded on the basis of the greater good of the German people.

I remember my sister being told after a burglary near Christmas by an earnest progressive copper that of course burglars needed to steal to provide a happy Christmas for their children.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Some need to kill to satisfy their sadism.

Apo State
Apo State
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Re: Your sister’s unhappy experience— OMG, the cheek of that “officer”! More “officer of the crime” than “officer of the law”. I hope she filed a complaint.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Apo State

Indeed. I don’t think she did. She probably felt it would only be a waste of time and she would be told he was just trying to be helpful and highlighting the positives that some child might have a happy Christmas. A Police Academy trained caring copper able to see the bigger picture and console the victims accordingly.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Apo State

Indeed. I don’t think she did. She probably felt it would only be a waste of time and she would be told he was just trying to be helpful and highlighting the positives that some child might have a happy Christmas. A Police Academy trained caring copper able to see the bigger picture and console the victims accordingly.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Some need to kill to satisfy their sadism.

Apo State
Apo State
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Re: Your sister’s unhappy experience— OMG, the cheek of that “officer”! More “officer of the crime” than “officer of the law”. I hope she filed a complaint.

Christiane Dauphinais
Christiane Dauphinais
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

As brilliantly explained by Thomas Sowell in “A Conflict of Visions”.

Shale Lewis
Shale Lewis
1 year ago

And that’s why people like Sowell are forced to appear only on far right talk shows, because the left refuses to acknowledge that “We Meant Well!” is not an indefatigable excuse for all time.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Shale Lewis

I have only ever seen Thomas Sowell on YouTube. I wasn’t aware there were any far right talk shows in the US. Does the Klu Klux Klan have a talk show there now?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Shale Lewis

I have only ever seen Thomas Sowell on YouTube. I wasn’t aware there were any far right talk shows in the US. Does the Klu Klux Klan have a talk show there now?

Shale Lewis
Shale Lewis
1 year ago

And that’s why people like Sowell are forced to appear only on far right talk shows, because the left refuses to acknowledge that “We Meant Well!” is not an indefatigable excuse for all time.

Jane Tomlinson
Jane Tomlinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

And if they have met any humans, I’m sure they are sueing the police/council/school/etc for exposing them to someone so awful they may never recover from the experience

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

Yes, I was bullied for at least a year by a guy & his mates and even now 50 years on it still makes me wince. It only stopped because of a Hollywood moment when he overplayed it by trapping me into a situation where I had to fight, whereupon I overcame the psychological dominance and beat the **** out of him.
You can stick you RJ, there’s nothing like a good bit of consequence to make everyone feel a lot better.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phil Mac
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

The justice you melted out no doubt felt very restorative to your self. There is nothing very restorative about RJ as for the most part restoration to the state you were in before the crime is actually impossible except perhaps in respect of repaying stolen cash with interest.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

Agreed – same story with my son – i gave up on the school achieving any boundaries on bullying and told my son to smack the bully on the nose and I would vent my spleen at the school- worked a treat except my son was annoyed that I had not given him permission several years earlier !!!
I went to pretty average shools in the 60’s and 70’s and dont remember serious bullying – partly because caning hurt (tight boundaries) plus we were too busy doing stuff – sport, fishing etc etc). Also maybe partly because there seemed to be more of a sense of decency back then – plus parents took a dim view of being phoned by the deputy head to have some responsibility handed firmly back to them !!

Fiona Hok
Fiona Hok
11 months ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

You’re dead right. Well done you.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

The justice you melted out no doubt felt very restorative to your self. There is nothing very restorative about RJ as for the most part restoration to the state you were in before the crime is actually impossible except perhaps in respect of repaying stolen cash with interest.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

Agreed – same story with my son – i gave up on the school achieving any boundaries on bullying and told my son to smack the bully on the nose and I would vent my spleen at the school- worked a treat except my son was annoyed that I had not given him permission several years earlier !!!
I went to pretty average shools in the 60’s and 70’s and dont remember serious bullying – partly because caning hurt (tight boundaries) plus we were too busy doing stuff – sport, fishing etc etc). Also maybe partly because there seemed to be more of a sense of decency back then – plus parents took a dim view of being phoned by the deputy head to have some responsibility handed firmly back to them !!

Fiona Hok
Fiona Hok
11 months ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

You’re dead right. Well done you.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

Yes. In the end it depends on whether you think we are born virtuous and corrupted by society or whether we are born savage and have to be socialised. I started out believing the former but after nearly sixty years of observing human behaviour I’m firmly in the latter camp.

Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

They’ve been dehumanised by technology. When you withdraw from society (because you are a lost soul, a coward or a bully) and hide behind a computer screen, you lose your humanity. Human generative progress is good. Tech-driven ideological “progress” is dystopian and doomed to fail.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

Yes, you can just imagine a stop oil protester who has blocked the road leading to the premature death of someone in an ambulance earnestly explaining to their relative how devastated they are over the consequence of their actions but still protesting that it was done to save the future of all humanity. We are very good at justifying our own crimes to ourselves.

One of the greatest crimes against humanity – the drive for a judenrein Germany – proceeded on the basis of the greater good of the German people.

I remember my sister being told after a burglary near Christmas by an earnest progressive copper that of course burglars needed to steal to provide a happy Christmas for their children.

Christiane Dauphinais
Christiane Dauphinais
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

As brilliantly explained by Thomas Sowell in “A Conflict of Visions”.

Jane Tomlinson
Jane Tomlinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

And if they have met any humans, I’m sure they are sueing the police/council/school/etc for exposing them to someone so awful they may never recover from the experience

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph Wein

Yes, I was bullied for at least a year by a guy & his mates and even now 50 years on it still makes me wince. It only stopped because of a Hollywood moment when he overplayed it by trapping me into a situation where I had to fight, whereupon I overcame the psychological dominance and beat the **** out of him.
You can stick you RJ, there’s nothing like a good bit of consequence to make everyone feel a lot better.

Last edited 1 year ago by Phil Mac
Joseph Wein
Joseph Wein
1 year ago

The biggest problem with progressive policies is that they fail to take into account human nature. Indeed it often feels as if progressives have never met any actual humans.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

How does the Dialectical Left constantly get away with this? They promote policies that increase the supply of social problems because constant problems increase demand for the Therapeutic Bureacracy. The Bureacracy then crafts its own statistical justification for existing and continuously reproduces more Bureacracy to fix the rapidly expanding list of problems it causes through nonsensical methods. Social and Emotional Learning isn’t meant to be applied at scale. Like “Defund the Police” It privileges bullies under the guise of compassion and harms everybody else.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  T Bone

Exactly.

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
1 year ago
Reply to  T Bone

Not to mention the “weaponization” of safeguarding, which, apart from anything else, is profoundly disrespectful of those who have been the recipients of genuine abuse.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  T Bone

Exactly.

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
1 year ago
Reply to  T Bone

Not to mention the “weaponization” of safeguarding, which, apart from anything else, is profoundly disrespectful of those who have been the recipients of genuine abuse.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

How does the Dialectical Left constantly get away with this? They promote policies that increase the supply of social problems because constant problems increase demand for the Therapeutic Bureacracy. The Bureacracy then crafts its own statistical justification for existing and continuously reproduces more Bureacracy to fix the rapidly expanding list of problems it causes through nonsensical methods. Social and Emotional Learning isn’t meant to be applied at scale. Like “Defund the Police” It privileges bullies under the guise of compassion and harms everybody else.

Jay Smith
Jay Smith
1 year ago

When my son was 11 a new boy at school decided to bully him. Every time they passed in the corridor this boy would punch my son in the stomach or push him. My son didn’t even know this boy’s name. My husband advised punching him back, I was more reticent. When my son came home the next day, he said that this time when the boy punched him he punched him back hard in the stomach. I said we supported him, but that there might be ‘consequences’ (bullies are alway squealers). On returning home the next day I asked my son if there had been any consquences, ‘yes’ he replied brightly ‘everytime he passed my in the corridor today he just walked by with his face turned away’. Restorative justice in action. Sometimes all you need to deal with a bully is to land a bigger punch in the guts.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Smith

I genuinely believe that none of the people who come up with this rubbish were ever bullied themselves.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

If you’re quick to hand out a reprisal to a potential bully they generally go away and find an easier victim. So in one sense you’re right: people who advise facing up to a bully probably haven’t been bullied, but that is to miss the preventative benefit of their advice. But, like treating any problem, the earlier the better; you have to sense the bullying before it really begins otherwise it will take more than a few reprisals before the bully will let go (if ever), which is unfortunately where things can get dangerous for the bullied and where many bullied people tragically find themselves.

Steve Farrell
Steve Farrell
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

I remember school. I can’t remember any of the victims being a physical match for any of the bullies. That’s how bullies chose their victims.

Occasionally there will be a highly satisfying case of an unassuming black belt / champion boxer etc laying a righteous beating on a bully, but it doesn’t happen very often.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

My Father tells of his situation. He come from nursery crying aged three. My Grandfather, an army officer and heavy weight boxer asks why he is crying. My Father says ” A girl hit him “. So immediately my Grandfather starts to teach my Father to box. My Grandfather says speed is vital. If one is landing punches and moving forward one will win the fight. Aged eight ( after five years of training )my Father, though small for his age, is attacked by two, twelve year old boys. He says two left hooks and he knocked out their front teeth. Dad swum every day in the sea and boxed, becoming a light heavy weight. During WW2, he twice used his upper body strength to save people. Both Grandfathers boxed, as did most of uncles. Pre WW2, the PT training for boys in any school was gymnastics, circuit training and then boxing, often taught by ex Army or RN PTIs. The reality there is massive decline in the skills and fighting spirit of middle and upper class men who are very rarely seen in today’s boxing or martial arts clubs and are generally intimidated by physical violence. However, too many criminals do attend boxing and martial arts clubs, hence the problem.
The reality is that thuggish pupils are often the children of violent parents of whom the teachers are terrified. The advanatge of ex Armed Forces PTIs running PT, boxing and Judo clubs is they can protect teachers from violent parents.
Shaolin Temple by Buddhist Monks are trained to protect the powerless, weak and defenceless; very similar to European chivalry.
When savages are better at fighting than the civilised, savagery prevails; as proven by Attila The Hun, Genghis Khan, Timur The Lame, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, organised crime and Putin.
One of the most insulting comments I have ever hard is when someone from a upper middle class background in safe town said I should understand the problems of a gang who had tried to blind and possibly kill me with a broken bottle.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

My Father tells of his situation. He come from nursery crying aged three. My Grandfather, an army officer and heavy weight boxer asks why he is crying. My Father says ” A girl hit him “. So immediately my Grandfather starts to teach my Father to box. My Grandfather says speed is vital. If one is landing punches and moving forward one will win the fight. Aged eight ( after five years of training )my Father, though small for his age, is attacked by two, twelve year old boys. He says two left hooks and he knocked out their front teeth. Dad swum every day in the sea and boxed, becoming a light heavy weight. During WW2, he twice used his upper body strength to save people. Both Grandfathers boxed, as did most of uncles. Pre WW2, the PT training for boys in any school was gymnastics, circuit training and then boxing, often taught by ex Army or RN PTIs. The reality there is massive decline in the skills and fighting spirit of middle and upper class men who are very rarely seen in today’s boxing or martial arts clubs and are generally intimidated by physical violence. However, too many criminals do attend boxing and martial arts clubs, hence the problem.
The reality is that thuggish pupils are often the children of violent parents of whom the teachers are terrified. The advanatge of ex Armed Forces PTIs running PT, boxing and Judo clubs is they can protect teachers from violent parents.
Shaolin Temple by Buddhist Monks are trained to protect the powerless, weak and defenceless; very similar to European chivalry.
When savages are better at fighting than the civilised, savagery prevails; as proven by Attila The Hun, Genghis Khan, Timur The Lame, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, organised crime and Putin.
One of the most insulting comments I have ever hard is when someone from a upper middle class background in safe town said I should understand the problems of a gang who had tried to blind and possibly kill me with a broken bottle.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

I can refute that – standing up to one of my bulllies physically made her leave me alone.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

If you’re quick to hand out a reprisal to a potential bully they generally go away and find an easier victim. So in one sense you’re right: people who advise facing up to a bully probably haven’t been bullied, but that is to miss the preventative benefit of their advice. But, like treating any problem, the earlier the better; you have to sense the bullying before it really begins otherwise it will take more than a few reprisals before the bully will let go (if ever), which is unfortunately where things can get dangerous for the bullied and where many bullied people tragically find themselves.

Steve Farrell
Steve Farrell
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

I remember school. I can’t remember any of the victims being a physical match for any of the bullies. That’s how bullies chose their victims.

Occasionally there will be a highly satisfying case of an unassuming black belt / champion boxer etc laying a righteous beating on a bully, but it doesn’t happen very often.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

I can refute that – standing up to one of my bulllies physically made her leave me alone.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Smith

Wish I’d posted my reply to Joseph Wein to this one. I had a similar, albeit longer term bad experience and I wished I’d listened to my Dad earlier. He’d told me how to punch so that I was trying to put the guys nose through to the back of his head. Problem solved.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Smith

I genuinely believe that none of the people who come up with this rubbish were ever bullied themselves.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Smith

Wish I’d posted my reply to Joseph Wein to this one. I had a similar, albeit longer term bad experience and I wished I’d listened to my Dad earlier. He’d told me how to punch so that I was trying to put the guys nose through to the back of his head. Problem solved.

Jay Smith
Jay Smith
1 year ago

When my son was 11 a new boy at school decided to bully him. Every time they passed in the corridor this boy would punch my son in the stomach or push him. My son didn’t even know this boy’s name. My husband advised punching him back, I was more reticent. When my son came home the next day, he said that this time when the boy punched him he punched him back hard in the stomach. I said we supported him, but that there might be ‘consequences’ (bullies are alway squealers). On returning home the next day I asked my son if there had been any consquences, ‘yes’ he replied brightly ‘everytime he passed my in the corridor today he just walked by with his face turned away’. Restorative justice in action. Sometimes all you need to deal with a bully is to land a bigger punch in the guts.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 year ago

Perhaps Giles needs to look further than schools for the breakdown of respect and look to the breakdown of families. Children do not spend enough time with their parents to learn respect for their elders and self respect. The result is today’s society. We need to stop relying on school to parent our children and take responsibility ourselves. How else can we expect our children to accept responsibility for their actions when so many if their role models relinquish their own responsibilities.
There are consequences to actions and it is an important lesson to learn, unfortunately so many parents want the little time they have to spend with their children to be quality time, they rarely hold their children accountable and much of the time, the bad behaviour is an attempt to gain the attention of their parents. We need to start recognising attention needing behaviours.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Your first sentence is absolutely correct. The only weakness in the otherwise sensible second sentence is the plural ‘parents’. All too often, children in the U.K. are being brought up by a single stressed-out and inadequate parent, or by that parent and the latest partner in a succession of partners.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
1 year ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Your first sentence is absolutely correct. The only weakness in the otherwise sensible second sentence is the plural ‘parents’. All too often, children in the U.K. are being brought up by a single stressed-out and inadequate parent, or by that parent and the latest partner in a succession of partners.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alan Tonkyn
Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 year ago

Perhaps Giles needs to look further than schools for the breakdown of respect and look to the breakdown of families. Children do not spend enough time with their parents to learn respect for their elders and self respect. The result is today’s society. We need to stop relying on school to parent our children and take responsibility ourselves. How else can we expect our children to accept responsibility for their actions when so many if their role models relinquish their own responsibilities.
There are consequences to actions and it is an important lesson to learn, unfortunately so many parents want the little time they have to spend with their children to be quality time, they rarely hold their children accountable and much of the time, the bad behaviour is an attempt to gain the attention of their parents. We need to start recognising attention needing behaviours.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

The purpose of punishment in the justice system is not simply to deter the individual concerned from reoffending but to deter others who might be tempted to offend.

Citing a small apparent reduction in the reoffending rate in those subject to restorative justice (which may not actually exist) does not take into account the deterrent effect on other potential offenders of punishment.

If instead of punishment offenders simply face being talked at.and a therapeutic process then the attractions of committing crime rather than desisting increases. For the most part offenders are likely to know the effects on their victims but don’t care.

But of course it provides lots of jobs for graduates and some victims who are often treated as irrelevant in the traditional system of justice might gain some increased psychological satisfaction at the expense of general deterrence being weakened.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

An essential point that the article missed. “Pour encourager les autres”.
Restorative justice feels like an abdication of responsibility by society. Trying to find an easy way out where none actually exists.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Good points.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Good points.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

For many, this system would be a reward for the offense.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

An essential point that the article missed. “Pour encourager les autres”.
Restorative justice feels like an abdication of responsibility by society. Trying to find an easy way out where none actually exists.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

For many, this system would be a reward for the offense.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

The purpose of punishment in the justice system is not simply to deter the individual concerned from reoffending but to deter others who might be tempted to offend.

Citing a small apparent reduction in the reoffending rate in those subject to restorative justice (which may not actually exist) does not take into account the deterrent effect on other potential offenders of punishment.

If instead of punishment offenders simply face being talked at.and a therapeutic process then the attractions of committing crime rather than desisting increases. For the most part offenders are likely to know the effects on their victims but don’t care.

But of course it provides lots of jobs for graduates and some victims who are often treated as irrelevant in the traditional system of justice might gain some increased psychological satisfaction at the expense of general deterrence being weakened.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

Everyone believes in restorative justice in that agreeable window of time after they’ve been on the course and before they’ve been mugged.

J Dunne
J Dunne
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Brilliantly put.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

They don’t see that more will be mugged when they let them go. So namby pamby.

J Dunne
J Dunne
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Brilliantly put.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

They don’t see that more will be mugged when they let them go. So namby pamby.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

Everyone believes in restorative justice in that agreeable window of time after they’ve been on the course and before they’ve been mugged.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

Looking at the literature on restorative justice, it comes across as a classic example of the weakness of social science academic practice. Literally thousands of papers discussing the theory and the views of practioners/supporters (with tons of reviews, and reviews of reviews) and very very few good quality statistical papers evaluating whether it works.
The positive statistical papers that do exist tend to report a reduction of suspensions in school (which isn’t surprising since the punishment regime is changed when RJ is implemented), but limited observations of more useful measures, while several larger statistical papers showing no or negative outcomes from RJ programmes.
Academics in the subject seem to have an active interest in showing Restorative Justice works, so they end up creating narratives and arguments, instead of attempting the hard critiques, dissections and evaluations. The contrast would be with the hard sciences like physics, where if you verify something to a millionth place of accuracy, you are obliged to create an experiment to check the 2 millionth place, just in case.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

That’s why Global Climate Change isn’t science.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

Shush! You might offend those who believe it is.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

Shush! You might offend those who believe it is.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

It will probably end up as part of the woke.

Gretchen Carlisle
Gretchen Carlisle
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Do any papers look at the recidivism rate for perpetrators who go through restorative justice?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

Yes, and they allegedly show the recidivism rate is slightly lower. One organisation put it at 14% lower and on this basis argued that it would save millions of pounds if widely adopted. The problem is that there is alms certainly a bias towards selecting those to be involved in RJ that would probably be less likely to reoffend whatever treatment they received.

In addition as Saul D points out most of those studying RJ will be academics who believe prison to be a failure and that RJ must be better and it is just a matter of getting the statistics to show this.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

There are relatively fewer decent statistical papers and some (I can’t say what proportion) of those that do exist have found RJ doesn’t work eg https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11292-022-09502-4 – but I wouldn’t try to take a definitive stance, there is simply too little research into outcomes relative to the volume of ‘theory’ it-should-work papers.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

Yes, and they allegedly show the recidivism rate is slightly lower. One organisation put it at 14% lower and on this basis argued that it would save millions of pounds if widely adopted. The problem is that there is alms certainly a bias towards selecting those to be involved in RJ that would probably be less likely to reoffend whatever treatment they received.

In addition as Saul D points out most of those studying RJ will be academics who believe prison to be a failure and that RJ must be better and it is just a matter of getting the statistics to show this.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

There are relatively fewer decent statistical papers and some (I can’t say what proportion) of those that do exist have found RJ doesn’t work eg https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11292-022-09502-4 – but I wouldn’t try to take a definitive stance, there is simply too little research into outcomes relative to the volume of ‘theory’ it-should-work papers.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

That’s why Global Climate Change isn’t science.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

It will probably end up as part of the woke.

Gretchen Carlisle
Gretchen Carlisle
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Do any papers look at the recidivism rate for perpetrators who go through restorative justice?

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

Looking at the literature on restorative justice, it comes across as a classic example of the weakness of social science academic practice. Literally thousands of papers discussing the theory and the views of practioners/supporters (with tons of reviews, and reviews of reviews) and very very few good quality statistical papers evaluating whether it works.
The positive statistical papers that do exist tend to report a reduction of suspensions in school (which isn’t surprising since the punishment regime is changed when RJ is implemented), but limited observations of more useful measures, while several larger statistical papers showing no or negative outcomes from RJ programmes.
Academics in the subject seem to have an active interest in showing Restorative Justice works, so they end up creating narratives and arguments, instead of attempting the hard critiques, dissections and evaluations. The contrast would be with the hard sciences like physics, where if you verify something to a millionth place of accuracy, you are obliged to create an experiment to check the 2 millionth place, just in case.

David Allison
David Allison
1 year ago

Victims of bad behaviour should not have to explain how it made them feel to have been victimised. But this may be one of the consequences of a society in which the nature of harm is increasingly understood in subjective terms (hate speech etc.).

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  David Allison

In today’s Western world, it’s all about the “feels”.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  David Allison

In today’s Western world, it’s all about the “feels”.

David Allison
David Allison
1 year ago

Victims of bad behaviour should not have to explain how it made them feel to have been victimised. But this may be one of the consequences of a society in which the nature of harm is increasingly understood in subjective terms (hate speech etc.).

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago

When I was in year 7 at secondary school some 20-21 years ago (just made myself feel old), I had the misfortune of being bullied by some thug in my year group for a few months. I was a fairly quiet and shy child so I mostly just took it until one day he decided to get physical and it didn’t go well for him. Needless to say, he left me alone after that and even better, moved school a few months later (to be clear, I am not taking credit for that). He bullied me for two reasons. Firstly, he could due to my temperament and that he knew he would get away with it. Secondly, because he liked it. As I say, this happened for a few months and in that time he didn’t get bored of tormenting and trying to embarrass me once. It was only when he came off worse and I realised I was stronger than I thought that he stopped. Often, the only way to deal with these people is to isolate them from their peers until they can be rehabilitated. Some fake apology with a meaningless handshake is going to solve nothing.

For what its worth, I heard through the grapevine later that he had a rubbish home life and that sort of thing, so I was naturally the proverbial punch bag that he could take his frustrations out on, and to feel superior no doubt. Not sure I forgive him, but I do pity him and appreciate I got off relatively lightly.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

A girl who was bullying me at school pushed me and finally I had enough and kicked her hard – she never came near me again. THAT is restorative justice not this namby pampy crap – and yes this girl had a miserable home life, however as a child that was not my issue to deal with.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

A girl who was bullying me at school pushed me and finally I had enough and kicked her hard – she never came near me again. THAT is restorative justice not this namby pampy crap – and yes this girl had a miserable home life, however as a child that was not my issue to deal with.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago

When I was in year 7 at secondary school some 20-21 years ago (just made myself feel old), I had the misfortune of being bullied by some thug in my year group for a few months. I was a fairly quiet and shy child so I mostly just took it until one day he decided to get physical and it didn’t go well for him. Needless to say, he left me alone after that and even better, moved school a few months later (to be clear, I am not taking credit for that). He bullied me for two reasons. Firstly, he could due to my temperament and that he knew he would get away with it. Secondly, because he liked it. As I say, this happened for a few months and in that time he didn’t get bored of tormenting and trying to embarrass me once. It was only when he came off worse and I realised I was stronger than I thought that he stopped. Often, the only way to deal with these people is to isolate them from their peers until they can be rehabilitated. Some fake apology with a meaningless handshake is going to solve nothing.

For what its worth, I heard through the grapevine later that he had a rubbish home life and that sort of thing, so I was naturally the proverbial punch bag that he could take his frustrations out on, and to feel superior no doubt. Not sure I forgive him, but I do pity him and appreciate I got off relatively lightly.

Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
1 year ago

Though-revoking piece. Thank you. Also quite chilling in places. We have really lost our way on so many levels. Firstly, only God can truly forgive. We can hope to try, through him, but true forgiveness is beyond the most compassionate adult, and incomprehensible to a child. A child who has been deeply hurt can be forced to say the words, “I forgive” but they will harbour resentment if their feelings are suppressed. Similarly a child with sociopathic tendencies will, indeed, play the system like a game. They need real consequences, real repercussions, if they are to be trained out of bad behaviour. That does NOT mean physical harm – corporal punishment is a form of child abuse that undoubtedly gives pleasure to the sadistic perpetrators of it – but it does mean limiting a child’s freedom or treats, and helping them understand that good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is not. I was recently verbally attacked on a train by two school children. I was horrified by their abusive words. When I tried to stand up for myself they started laughing and filming me. They were savage. They had no concept of right and wrong. We are failing our children. Something has to change.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

We are living in an era of “feral” children who have essentially raised themselves. Lord of the Flies land.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

“Though-revoking”? Was that deliberate? If so, I dont getthe pun. Or was it a bizarre double autocorrection.

Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
1 year ago

Not deliberate. Very bad autocorrection!! This is why we need human beings with thinking faculties and acute awareness. Machines will never have real intelligence!

Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
1 year ago

Not deliberate. Very bad autocorrection!! This is why we need human beings with thinking faculties and acute awareness. Machines will never have real intelligence!

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

We are living in an era of “feral” children who have essentially raised themselves. Lord of the Flies land.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

“Though-revoking”? Was that deliberate? If so, I dont getthe pun. Or was it a bizarre double autocorrection.

Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
1 year ago

Though-revoking piece. Thank you. Also quite chilling in places. We have really lost our way on so many levels. Firstly, only God can truly forgive. We can hope to try, through him, but true forgiveness is beyond the most compassionate adult, and incomprehensible to a child. A child who has been deeply hurt can be forced to say the words, “I forgive” but they will harbour resentment if their feelings are suppressed. Similarly a child with sociopathic tendencies will, indeed, play the system like a game. They need real consequences, real repercussions, if they are to be trained out of bad behaviour. That does NOT mean physical harm – corporal punishment is a form of child abuse that undoubtedly gives pleasure to the sadistic perpetrators of it – but it does mean limiting a child’s freedom or treats, and helping them understand that good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is not. I was recently verbally attacked on a train by two school children. I was horrified by their abusive words. When I tried to stand up for myself they started laughing and filming me. They were savage. They had no concept of right and wrong. We are failing our children. Something has to change.

Richard 0
Richard 0
1 year ago

I have been involved in RJ for approximately three years now; in the criminal justice system and in secondary schools. I was drawn to it as it seemed to be one way to give a voice to the victim. My training was very clear: it is not about forgiveness. There is a well known case of the parents of a young man, innocently involved in a pub fight, killed by a single blow to the head. The offender was given a prison term for manslaughter. Whilst in prison, the parents of the dead young man wanted to try and understand what happened and why the offender, who pleaded guilty and expressed remorse, got involved in the fight. Both parties agreed to the RJ process. This agreement is critical and at the foundation of RJ. Nothing is forced, nobody should be coerced or feel they are. The process is explained to people and it is then up to them whether it proceeds or not. If one party does not agree, it does not go forward: no pressure to either party should ever be applied. The parents of the young man were clear both before and after the process; they were not seeking to forgive the offender. They wanted to try and understand what happened and why. They were pleased that the offender had turned his life around, but could not forgive him for what he did. And this was acceptable to the offender, he wasn’t looking for forgiveness. I have sat in on a case where a victim wanted his attacker (a violent assault 25 years ago) to know what the affect of his actions towards him were. The victim, when the trial was over and the police had got their man, was completely forgotten. RJ provided an opportunity for him to be heard. For the offender, it was important for him to offer some sort of explanation. No excuse, but some attempt at the ‘why’ and an opportunity to apologise face to face.
             Within schools things are not so clear cut. Often it is hard to work out who is the victim and who is the offender. The emotional maturity needed to take on the restoration of broken relationships is frequently not there. When it does work, it’s great, but in my experience it is a bit hit and miss. Add into a conflict between two students the friendship groups, family members’ involvement, social media, and it gets very complicated. To hear of this being carried out in primary schools is alarming. By all means get the bullies to see the consequences of what they do, but at the same time there needs to be punitive consequences. What can be helpful, even if things aren’t resolved, is the opportunity for the students to have a genuinely independent individual listen to them.
             I worked in Victim Support in London many yeas ago and it was a simple thing: people wanted to talk about what they had been through. RJ, for all the idealistic hyperbole surrounding it, is really a fairly simple, practical process. Unfortunately, the Coventry Cathedral example and the slavery-legacy debate drag it down a path it shouldn’t be going: it should be between people who are alive and willing to talk. It should not be seen as an alternative to punishment.

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Thank you for this post. Restorative justice has to make the perpetrator change their mindset, to see their actions in a different way and be deterred from repeating them. The meeting should be private with a facilitator making sure it is carried out fairly. It should only be used when the powers that be think it will work. It then seems to be very effective. I would also suggest that the victim would then feel satisfied and be able to move on. Primary school children in a circle sounds like a typically 21st century torture devised by well meaning numpties who have no experience of real life bullying in schools.

Apo State
Apo State
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Your description sounds diametrically opposed to the way RJ works in the US. Your description sounds more like the Victim Impact Statement which can be given (voluntarily) at trial or parole hearings.
In the US, “progressive” RJ is used, not with retributive justice, but with the concept of “diversion”.
In effect, this means that the perpetrator is kept completely out of the courts and prisons, and RJ (perhaps along with restitution and/or community service) is the only “punishment” imposed.
With so little in the way of accountability, is it any wonder that crime rates are soaring, especially where “progressive” prosecutors have been elected?

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Thanks for this RO. Really helpful.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Yes, your described situation is exactly how restorative justice should be – as you say though in schools things are not so clear cut and there has to be consequences, otherwise that child bully has a greater chance of turning into an adult bully.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Why do teachers ignore bullying, are they scared of the bullies parents?

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Thank you for this post. Restorative justice has to make the perpetrator change their mindset, to see their actions in a different way and be deterred from repeating them. The meeting should be private with a facilitator making sure it is carried out fairly. It should only be used when the powers that be think it will work. It then seems to be very effective. I would also suggest that the victim would then feel satisfied and be able to move on. Primary school children in a circle sounds like a typically 21st century torture devised by well meaning numpties who have no experience of real life bullying in schools.

Apo State
Apo State
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Your description sounds diametrically opposed to the way RJ works in the US. Your description sounds more like the Victim Impact Statement which can be given (voluntarily) at trial or parole hearings.
In the US, “progressive” RJ is used, not with retributive justice, but with the concept of “diversion”.
In effect, this means that the perpetrator is kept completely out of the courts and prisons, and RJ (perhaps along with restitution and/or community service) is the only “punishment” imposed.
With so little in the way of accountability, is it any wonder that crime rates are soaring, especially where “progressive” prosecutors have been elected?

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Thanks for this RO. Really helpful.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Yes, your described situation is exactly how restorative justice should be – as you say though in schools things are not so clear cut and there has to be consequences, otherwise that child bully has a greater chance of turning into an adult bully.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard 0

Why do teachers ignore bullying, are they scared of the bullies parents?

Richard 0
Richard 0
1 year ago

I have been involved in RJ for approximately three years now; in the criminal justice system and in secondary schools. I was drawn to it as it seemed to be one way to give a voice to the victim. My training was very clear: it is not about forgiveness. There is a well known case of the parents of a young man, innocently involved in a pub fight, killed by a single blow to the head. The offender was given a prison term for manslaughter. Whilst in prison, the parents of the dead young man wanted to try and understand what happened and why the offender, who pleaded guilty and expressed remorse, got involved in the fight. Both parties agreed to the RJ process. This agreement is critical and at the foundation of RJ. Nothing is forced, nobody should be coerced or feel they are. The process is explained to people and it is then up to them whether it proceeds or not. If one party does not agree, it does not go forward: no pressure to either party should ever be applied. The parents of the young man were clear both before and after the process; they were not seeking to forgive the offender. They wanted to try and understand what happened and why. They were pleased that the offender had turned his life around, but could not forgive him for what he did. And this was acceptable to the offender, he wasn’t looking for forgiveness. I have sat in on a case where a victim wanted his attacker (a violent assault 25 years ago) to know what the affect of his actions towards him were. The victim, when the trial was over and the police had got their man, was completely forgotten. RJ provided an opportunity for him to be heard. For the offender, it was important for him to offer some sort of explanation. No excuse, but some attempt at the ‘why’ and an opportunity to apologise face to face.
             Within schools things are not so clear cut. Often it is hard to work out who is the victim and who is the offender. The emotional maturity needed to take on the restoration of broken relationships is frequently not there. When it does work, it’s great, but in my experience it is a bit hit and miss. Add into a conflict between two students the friendship groups, family members’ involvement, social media, and it gets very complicated. To hear of this being carried out in primary schools is alarming. By all means get the bullies to see the consequences of what they do, but at the same time there needs to be punitive consequences. What can be helpful, even if things aren’t resolved, is the opportunity for the students to have a genuinely independent individual listen to them.
             I worked in Victim Support in London many yeas ago and it was a simple thing: people wanted to talk about what they had been through. RJ, for all the idealistic hyperbole surrounding it, is really a fairly simple, practical process. Unfortunately, the Coventry Cathedral example and the slavery-legacy debate drag it down a path it shouldn’t be going: it should be between people who are alive and willing to talk. It should not be seen as an alternative to punishment.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

In less than two decades we have gone from schools basically tolerating bullying, to a zero tolerance approach, back to tolerance. Such is the state of things in a corroding nation-state.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Going round in cirles then.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Going round in cirles then.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

In less than two decades we have gone from schools basically tolerating bullying, to a zero tolerance approach, back to tolerance. Such is the state of things in a corroding nation-state.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The author cites the symbolic statue being vandalised outside Coventry Cathedral as an example where RJ works, but in reality there’s no individual victim here – our communal sense of violation perhaps, but no-one forced into a demeaning act of forgiveness they mightn’t feel inclined to participate in.
Also telling is the example he cites of those required to oversee this process, imposed from above, and how their lack of experience in doing so leaves them exposed to unhealthy feelings, whilst the perpetrators may well be smirking their way to the next victim. This has parallels with the current moral compunction of “compelled speech” where no effective choice is made available other than conformity.
My overall impression is that the author himself feels deeply conflicted. I think this provides a deep dive into his psyche, and if this is indeed the case, i hope he’s able to find peace.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Forgiveness on personal grounds is commendable but given on behalf of society it’s a falsehood as most believe there should be consequences for crime.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Forgiveness on personal grounds is commendable but given on behalf of society it’s a falsehood as most believe there should be consequences for crime.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The author cites the symbolic statue being vandalised outside Coventry Cathedral as an example where RJ works, but in reality there’s no individual victim here – our communal sense of violation perhaps, but no-one forced into a demeaning act of forgiveness they mightn’t feel inclined to participate in.
Also telling is the example he cites of those required to oversee this process, imposed from above, and how their lack of experience in doing so leaves them exposed to unhealthy feelings, whilst the perpetrators may well be smirking their way to the next victim. This has parallels with the current moral compunction of “compelled speech” where no effective choice is made available other than conformity.
My overall impression is that the author himself feels deeply conflicted. I think this provides a deep dive into his psyche, and if this is indeed the case, i hope he’s able to find peace.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

Despite the title, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the concept of justice in the piece.

RJ seems to be a process of moving on from an incident which may, in some cases, be more effective than retribution. A laudable aim but is justice done in a process which requires the victim to do most of the heavy lifting? Reliving and forgiving seem rather more difficult than apologising.

Isn’t some level of retribution inherent in the word justice for it to mean anything?

Can’t help but notice Foucault comes up, as he does so often in discussions about substantive changes to the foundations of morality.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Like paying back five times what you stole as shown in the bible?

Gretchen Carlisle
Gretchen Carlisle
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Reliving and forgiving seem rather more difficult than apologising.
This is a huge point that never seems to be addressed. Nor does the fact that the forgiveness process can take a long time, especially if one shuts down and tries to ignore the effects of the crime. It took me 22 years to begin to deal with childhood sexual abuse; what use would RJ have been for either of us (on top of further damage to me as the victim) when I did not yet comprehend what the full damage was? (I likened it to someone having stolen $100 from me, but later discovering that he had actually stolen $1,000,000 from me.) For anything that really matters, true forgiveness takes time and acceptance of what has been lost, and may require multiple iterations of work. It sounds like RJ is a quick fix, move on, nothing more to see here.

Last edited 1 year ago by Gretchen Carlisle
Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Like paying back five times what you stole as shown in the bible?

Gretchen Carlisle
Gretchen Carlisle
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Reliving and forgiving seem rather more difficult than apologising.
This is a huge point that never seems to be addressed. Nor does the fact that the forgiveness process can take a long time, especially if one shuts down and tries to ignore the effects of the crime. It took me 22 years to begin to deal with childhood sexual abuse; what use would RJ have been for either of us (on top of further damage to me as the victim) when I did not yet comprehend what the full damage was? (I likened it to someone having stolen $100 from me, but later discovering that he had actually stolen $1,000,000 from me.) For anything that really matters, true forgiveness takes time and acceptance of what has been lost, and may require multiple iterations of work. It sounds like RJ is a quick fix, move on, nothing more to see here.

Last edited 1 year ago by Gretchen Carlisle
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

Despite the title, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the concept of justice in the piece.

RJ seems to be a process of moving on from an incident which may, in some cases, be more effective than retribution. A laudable aim but is justice done in a process which requires the victim to do most of the heavy lifting? Reliving and forgiving seem rather more difficult than apologising.

Isn’t some level of retribution inherent in the word justice for it to mean anything?

Can’t help but notice Foucault comes up, as he does so often in discussions about substantive changes to the foundations of morality.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

Crime requires punishment. Spank them so hard, their grandchildren will feel warm sitting down!

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Someone said it is physical damage. It doesn’t have to be. If done right it hurts but soon heals.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Someone said it is physical damage. It doesn’t have to be. If done right it hurts but soon heals.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

Crime requires punishment. Spank them so hard, their grandchildren will feel warm sitting down!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

This article takes us deep into the psyche of its author, who’s written many articles for Unherd with which i’ve disagreed. It seems there is a limit to the principles which his Christian faith would have him follow, in terms of of forgiveness.
He gets it pretty much right in his exposition of how the perpetrators of acts which violate others might smirk their way through the RJ process, whilst at the same time requiring the violated to revisit the act in a way which may well demean them.
He also delves into the wider issue of why this type of process is now happening, suggesting convenience and/or cost savings. I think he gets that right too, but there’s a wider factor which i’ll come to.
It should be said that the example he quotes – of the violation of a symbolic statue at Coventry Cathedral – violates us all as a community but not just one individual, and there’s the rub. It’s of a different order of forgiveness, with no ‘victim’ as such.
For me, the most telling point concerns those overseeing this process. They too, may find themselves feeling a sense of violation along with the victim, and equally unable to speak out or exclude themselves from the process which is being ordained from outside. This has so many parallels with current issues such as ‘compelled speech’ that the process belongs in the same category. This is the wider implication; a signifier of the mores of a society that’s lost confidence in itself.
His personal experience of frequent canings at school is included, and one almost gets the impression he’s been waiting for an opportunity to offload this. He cites this in terms of authoritarian actions and “consequences” as if to say he didn’t deserve the consequences – “blood in his underpants” – of what were presumably very minor childhood misdemeanours, therefore he’d generally be in favour of the principle of RJ. What emerges from all this is a sense that he’s genuinely conflicted. It’s as if one instinct is telling him one thing, and another is telling him something very different. It certainly explains a good deal, and I genuinely hope he finds peace.
Edit: just to add, this comment didn’t appear when first posted, so i wrote another one containing many of the same points. Apologies to those reading them twice; the fault lies with Unherd.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

This article takes us deep into the psyche of its author, who’s written many articles for Unherd with which i’ve disagreed. It seems there is a limit to the principles which his Christian faith would have him follow, in terms of of forgiveness.
He gets it pretty much right in his exposition of how the perpetrators of acts which violate others might smirk their way through the RJ process, whilst at the same time requiring the violated to revisit the act in a way which may well demean them.
He also delves into the wider issue of why this type of process is now happening, suggesting convenience and/or cost savings. I think he gets that right too, but there’s a wider factor which i’ll come to.
It should be said that the example he quotes – of the violation of a symbolic statue at Coventry Cathedral – violates us all as a community but not just one individual, and there’s the rub. It’s of a different order of forgiveness, with no ‘victim’ as such.
For me, the most telling point concerns those overseeing this process. They too, may find themselves feeling a sense of violation along with the victim, and equally unable to speak out or exclude themselves from the process which is being ordained from outside. This has so many parallels with current issues such as ‘compelled speech’ that the process belongs in the same category. This is the wider implication; a signifier of the mores of a society that’s lost confidence in itself.
His personal experience of frequent canings at school is included, and one almost gets the impression he’s been waiting for an opportunity to offload this. He cites this in terms of authoritarian actions and “consequences” as if to say he didn’t deserve the consequences – “blood in his underpants” – of what were presumably very minor childhood misdemeanours, therefore he’d generally be in favour of the principle of RJ. What emerges from all this is a sense that he’s genuinely conflicted. It’s as if one instinct is telling him one thing, and another is telling him something very different. It certainly explains a good deal, and I genuinely hope he finds peace.
Edit: just to add, this comment didn’t appear when first posted, so i wrote another one containing many of the same points. Apologies to those reading them twice; the fault lies with Unherd.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

There is a fantastic opportunity for CofE schools here. They should oblige all their schools to enforce strict discipline, teach a traditional and challenging curriculum, forgo any trendy, woke initiatives and insist on weekly collective worship. There schools would be tremendously popular and they could fill up their pews on a Sunday if they re-introduced church attendance as part of the criteria for a place in their schools.
All it needs is a courageous, orthodox and traditionally-minded Archbishop of Canterbury. One who is less interested in winning plaudits from the liberals and more interested in spreading the Word.
Oh well! It’s a nice dream.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

There is a fantastic opportunity for CofE schools here. They should oblige all their schools to enforce strict discipline, teach a traditional and challenging curriculum, forgo any trendy, woke initiatives and insist on weekly collective worship. There schools would be tremendously popular and they could fill up their pews on a Sunday if they re-introduced church attendance as part of the criteria for a place in their schools.
All it needs is a courageous, orthodox and traditionally-minded Archbishop of Canterbury. One who is less interested in winning plaudits from the liberals and more interested in spreading the Word.
Oh well! It’s a nice dream.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

Some will never acknowledge their sin and have to learn the hard way if at all. Justice is important if we are to protect the people of this nation. What is the purpose of having the law if we can wheedle out of it through those who think they are doing a good job getting us to repent. Both sides are needed not just one or the other. Letting people go scott free to repeat their crimes without consequences is very dangerous for our nation and is a sin against the law abiding majority actually.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

Some will never acknowledge their sin and have to learn the hard way if at all. Justice is important if we are to protect the people of this nation. What is the purpose of having the law if we can wheedle out of it through those who think they are doing a good job getting us to repent. Both sides are needed not just one or the other. Letting people go scott free to repeat their crimes without consequences is very dangerous for our nation and is a sin against the law abiding majority actually.

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago

“…forgiveness is the guiding spirit behind RJ. And when it happens properly, it is a beautiful thing. But it has to be carefully handled, and a healthy degree of scepticism is imperative.”
RJ is like Bloom’s Taxonomy – educators think they know all about it but have only a cursory understanding. Unlike Blooms less damage is done when one isn’t trained to apply it.
My son, a teacher, was verbally threatened by his nine year old student. (I’m going to hit you in the head and watch you bleed, stab your eyes out and cut out your tongue) Graphic stuff. The student wasn’t suspended (even in school) but was sent back to the class to “apologize”. My son saw the child’s smirk and quick “sorry” and told the child he wouldn’t accept his apology – that would require a change in behaviour. The admin wasn’t happy – the acceptance of the apology was expected. Although this wasn’t restorative justice (or perhaps it was the admin’s understanding of it) the lack of real consequences often lets the perpetrator off the hook. Even if RJ was done properly is it the right approach? My son was actually shaken by the vitriol this student spewed at him. Should he have to share, with this student, that his words were frightening? Is this a troubled child or a sick one?
Consequences don’t need to be severe only consistent. And understood by all. Put rules and consequences in place and follow through. Do what you say you will do.
My friend who is a Principal, recently took over a school where students were rude and aggressive to the teachers. Every day. Why? Because they only had to apologize. When she instituted proper consequences – contacting parents, suspension) with proper reintroduction back into the class, the incidents virtually stopped. While there may be a child with severe mental health or social issues, the majority just need admin/teachers with a backbone (to quote Barbara Coloroso).
I think RJ can work at a whole class/whole school level as a preemptive measure to help create a positive classroom environment – sharing small injustices and resolving them to create a positive place to learn. But for bigger issues – intimidation, relentless bullying, violence – everyone needs consequences. The perpetrator for sure, but the victim perhaps even more so.

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago

“…forgiveness is the guiding spirit behind RJ. And when it happens properly, it is a beautiful thing. But it has to be carefully handled, and a healthy degree of scepticism is imperative.”
RJ is like Bloom’s Taxonomy – educators think they know all about it but have only a cursory understanding. Unlike Blooms less damage is done when one isn’t trained to apply it.
My son, a teacher, was verbally threatened by his nine year old student. (I’m going to hit you in the head and watch you bleed, stab your eyes out and cut out your tongue) Graphic stuff. The student wasn’t suspended (even in school) but was sent back to the class to “apologize”. My son saw the child’s smirk and quick “sorry” and told the child he wouldn’t accept his apology – that would require a change in behaviour. The admin wasn’t happy – the acceptance of the apology was expected. Although this wasn’t restorative justice (or perhaps it was the admin’s understanding of it) the lack of real consequences often lets the perpetrator off the hook. Even if RJ was done properly is it the right approach? My son was actually shaken by the vitriol this student spewed at him. Should he have to share, with this student, that his words were frightening? Is this a troubled child or a sick one?
Consequences don’t need to be severe only consistent. And understood by all. Put rules and consequences in place and follow through. Do what you say you will do.
My friend who is a Principal, recently took over a school where students were rude and aggressive to the teachers. Every day. Why? Because they only had to apologize. When she instituted proper consequences – contacting parents, suspension) with proper reintroduction back into the class, the incidents virtually stopped. While there may be a child with severe mental health or social issues, the majority just need admin/teachers with a backbone (to quote Barbara Coloroso).
I think RJ can work at a whole class/whole school level as a preemptive measure to help create a positive classroom environment – sharing small injustices and resolving them to create a positive place to learn. But for bigger issues – intimidation, relentless bullying, violence – everyone needs consequences. The perpetrator for sure, but the victim perhaps even more so.

Bob Downing
Bob Downing
1 year ago

Interesting. On the one hand we have a trend towards authoritarianism sweeping some countries, and on the other we have the pursuit of a less brutal, more humanitarian form of society. And occasionally they co-exist, albeit somewhat uneasily. What we, at least in England, haven’t worked out is what the true nature of Man is, and therefore whether we should side with the notion that Man is fundamentally good and can always be recovered from the path of any evil he may have done, or whether Man is fundamentally inclined to evil and deserves whatever punishment is bestowed upon him.
There are, of course, any number of middle arguments about the nature of individuals, and the need to treat Mankind as a collection of individuals, all to be assessed accordingly before any decision is made. That is an ideal, and like all ideals it runs sooner rather than later into the buffers – ideals just don’t work precisely because the possible number of permutations in judging whole populations and deciding what to do with them is impossibly large and unwieldy. Justice, particularly if implying “fairness”, has to be a coherent system, or not exist at all.
We have always been perilously close to the blatantly unjust, whether it was the tribal elders, the feudal lords or a more formalised “universal” system of trial and punishment. And we’ve seen in other societies what the pretence of justice looks like. We wondered how on earth those behind the Iron Curtain coped, and the same is true again of the Chinese (never mind the North Korean population). What we’ve never agreed upon is the nature of a population (of individuals) and whether it is best lead by brute, uncaring force and discipline or the quasi-religious hopes of an idealistic, caring leadership, prey as it must be to those who can’t or won’t conform.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob Downing

This is the predominant question that shapes all societies. Hobbes thought people were inherently greedy and self-serving. Rousseau thought they were inherently good and cooperative and Locke thought they were a blank slate; neither good or bad but shaped by experience and circumstances.

I think the fundamental nature of Humans is quite clear: That we’re all capable of being monsters unless we’re tethered by a belief system that holds every human life as sacred. Even in that case, we are still self-serving and incapable of living up to the high standard.  But the high standard teaches one to value every human regardless of how disgusted we might be in their behavior.

Essentially every branch of Social Democracy including Leninism- Marxism and Fascism shoots off the Rousseau line of Collectivism and Utilitarianism (ends justify the means).

The Locke branch of Natural Rights endowed by a Creator led to the free democracies that made up the prosperous western world and was consistent with Capitalism and trade.  They weren’t perfect but they recognized a fundamental truth, that a free society can’t be socially engineered at the individual level. 

The rise of Authoritarianism comes directly from Rousseau’s form of collectivism and direct Democracy that favors the outgroup over the individual and repeatedly leads to group struggle/tragedy because in its Egalitarian pursuit of Absolute Security and Equality it produces Absolute Tyranny.

Forced collectivism is unnatural and inherently undemocratic.  In an attempt to abolish hierarchies it produces leaders that use the “language of liberation” to build rigid, intractable hierarchies that are magnitudes more oppressive than the ones that occur naturally through an individualistic meritocracy where the State exists to protect rights not provide sustenance.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob Downing

This is the predominant question that shapes all societies. Hobbes thought people were inherently greedy and self-serving. Rousseau thought they were inherently good and cooperative and Locke thought they were a blank slate; neither good or bad but shaped by experience and circumstances.

I think the fundamental nature of Humans is quite clear: That we’re all capable of being monsters unless we’re tethered by a belief system that holds every human life as sacred. Even in that case, we are still self-serving and incapable of living up to the high standard.  But the high standard teaches one to value every human regardless of how disgusted we might be in their behavior.

Essentially every branch of Social Democracy including Leninism- Marxism and Fascism shoots off the Rousseau line of Collectivism and Utilitarianism (ends justify the means).

The Locke branch of Natural Rights endowed by a Creator led to the free democracies that made up the prosperous western world and was consistent with Capitalism and trade.  They weren’t perfect but they recognized a fundamental truth, that a free society can’t be socially engineered at the individual level. 

The rise of Authoritarianism comes directly from Rousseau’s form of collectivism and direct Democracy that favors the outgroup over the individual and repeatedly leads to group struggle/tragedy because in its Egalitarian pursuit of Absolute Security and Equality it produces Absolute Tyranny.

Forced collectivism is unnatural and inherently undemocratic.  In an attempt to abolish hierarchies it produces leaders that use the “language of liberation” to build rigid, intractable hierarchies that are magnitudes more oppressive than the ones that occur naturally through an individualistic meritocracy where the State exists to protect rights not provide sustenance.

Bob Downing
Bob Downing
1 year ago

Interesting. On the one hand we have a trend towards authoritarianism sweeping some countries, and on the other we have the pursuit of a less brutal, more humanitarian form of society. And occasionally they co-exist, albeit somewhat uneasily. What we, at least in England, haven’t worked out is what the true nature of Man is, and therefore whether we should side with the notion that Man is fundamentally good and can always be recovered from the path of any evil he may have done, or whether Man is fundamentally inclined to evil and deserves whatever punishment is bestowed upon him.
There are, of course, any number of middle arguments about the nature of individuals, and the need to treat Mankind as a collection of individuals, all to be assessed accordingly before any decision is made. That is an ideal, and like all ideals it runs sooner rather than later into the buffers – ideals just don’t work precisely because the possible number of permutations in judging whole populations and deciding what to do with them is impossibly large and unwieldy. Justice, particularly if implying “fairness”, has to be a coherent system, or not exist at all.
We have always been perilously close to the blatantly unjust, whether it was the tribal elders, the feudal lords or a more formalised “universal” system of trial and punishment. And we’ve seen in other societies what the pretence of justice looks like. We wondered how on earth those behind the Iron Curtain coped, and the same is true again of the Chinese (never mind the North Korean population). What we’ve never agreed upon is the nature of a population (of individuals) and whether it is best lead by brute, uncaring force and discipline or the quasi-religious hopes of an idealistic, caring leadership, prey as it must be to those who can’t or won’t conform.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
1 year ago

If I had committed a serious crime against someone else I would want to be punished in some way. What is worse than unexpiated guilt? There is a moral demand for punishment where it is appropriate.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
1 year ago

If I had committed a serious crime against someone else I would want to be punished in some way. What is worse than unexpiated guilt? There is a moral demand for punishment where it is appropriate.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Given that our prisons are academies of drug dealing skills and access, and IT fraud/scam, it is positively insane to imprison first/ non violent offenders so as to ensure that, upon release, crime is the easiest form of living for them? In days of yore, I saw recruit Guardsmen with ‘ previous’ turned into model citizens via our training. It works.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

eg: “ I thank you Sir for leave to speak?”

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
11 months ago

Yes, the academy of crime is a reason to be leery of the current prison system but RJ doesn’t provide the sort of discipline and moulding that will turn them into model citizens.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

eg: “ I thank you Sir for leave to speak?”

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
11 months ago

Yes, the academy of crime is a reason to be leery of the current prison system but RJ doesn’t provide the sort of discipline and moulding that will turn them into model citizens.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Given that our prisons are academies of drug dealing skills and access, and IT fraud/scam, it is positively insane to imprison first/ non violent offenders so as to ensure that, upon release, crime is the easiest form of living for them? In days of yore, I saw recruit Guardsmen with ‘ previous’ turned into model citizens via our training. It works.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

There is a simple way to test how genuine contrition is: the bully agrees to do one reasonable thing (not humiliating, not dangerous, not inflicting harm on a third person) that the victim asks him or her to do.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

There is a simple way to test how genuine contrition is: the bully agrees to do one reasonable thing (not humiliating, not dangerous, not inflicting harm on a third person) that the victim asks him or her to do.

Douglas H
Douglas H
1 year ago

Can you correlate the rise in violence against teachers with the growth of RJ? That’s the implication but I don’t see any proof

Douglas H
Douglas H
1 year ago

Can you correlate the rise in violence against teachers with the growth of RJ? That’s the implication but I don’t see any proof

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

This is a fascinating topic and by no means confined to advice on using this or that form of pop psychology to inform institutional policies on bullying, public policy on bullying in prisons or any other institution.
Like some of those whose comments appear, I was relentlessly, implacably bullied in both elementary school and high school–psychologically, not physically. I did think of explaining to the bullies that they were indulging blatantly in evil, but I never did, because I could detect in them not the slightest in either good or evil. The teachers ignored what was going on. My parents didn’t know what was going on, because I never told them. Years later, I learned that bullies usually have their own crosses to bear. But I didn’t care. Still later, however, I wondered what I’d say if I were ever to meet any of them on the street or at a class reunion. I found the address of one and wrote to her but without resorting to moral instruction, let alone virtue signaling. I simply said that despite the hard times of decades earlier, I had gotten over it, grown up and made a good life for myself. I didn’t ask for an apology or even an explanation. And, as I expected, she offered neither. She never replied at all. But here’s the thing. Our school had been a Jewish one. Our teachers didn’t dwell morbidly on the Nazis but nonetheless referred to them in the larger context of Jewish history (which is by no means entirely tragic). The parents or grandparents of many students, including some of the bullies, had survived death camps in Europe. And yet some of these parents had not managed to teach their own children the value of kindness–that is, the Golden Rule.
The author of this article refers to the inscription at Coventry Cathedral: “Father forgive.” Speaking from the cross in those very words, Jesus asked God (the Father) to forgive the executioners. That makes sense theologically. But how would that approach apply to anyone visiting or worshipping in this cathedral? Should they forgive the Nazis? Could they? The answers to these questions are somewhat ambiguous. With them in mind, I highly recommend a book that I read many years ago (before this second edition): Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (New York: Schocken Books, 1998). Here’s the blurb from Amazon.
You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness. What would you do? While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS. Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to–and obtain absolution from–a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing. But even years after the way had ended, he wondered: Had he done the right thing? What would you have done in his place? In this important book, fifty-three distinguished men and women respond to Wiesenthal’s questions. They are theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, and victims of attempted genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, China and Tibet. Their responses, as varied as their experiences of the world, remind us that Wiesenthal’s questions are not limited to events of the past.
I can’t summarize the findings of those who responded to Wiesenthal (who later gained fame as an indefatigable Nazi hunter), because no two are alike except in the sense that they are all personal meditations that emerge from collective intuitions. Even those authors who agree that forgiveness would be the right (or wrong) thing to do, don’t do so for the same reasons. One author says that he would be able and perhaps willing to forgive what he himself has suffered at the hands of this officer but is neither able nor willing to forgive what the officer has done to countless others.
I think that forgiveness–by which I mean reconciliation–is not only a beautiful ideal but also a practical possibility in some circumstances. Perps must ask their victims to forgive them, for instance, and the request must be sincere, not perfunctory. Victims, moreover, must actually want to get past the temptation of rage. I doubt that many people–children, to be sure, but also adults–are ready for any of this. Therefore, I think that Fraser is correct in rejecting the manipulative, coercive and therefore immoral techniques of pop psychology. I could tell you all many, many stories about my experiences in therapy groups, which I found much more disturbing than the earlier ones of bullying. But I won’t, because almost every reader of UnHerd knows what I mean.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Thoughtful and well-argued as usual, Paul. I understand your concluding point about sincerity and a process of mutual healing that cannot be a coerced or achieved according to a formula. But in the US our current punitive, warehousing model has never worked, and I think we can do better. Not that upending the status quo will lead a magical transformation, but I’d say we are a little danger of being too forgiving or of resorting to a cheap restorative model that further departs from justice. As an astute Canadian observer: Would you say we Americans have tried all we can in the restorative vein?

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I prefer not to use jargon such as “restorative justice” or even “retributive justice.” Life isn’t neatly divided up into opposing categories. Nonetheless, I’ll try to answer your question.
You’re talking specifically about prisoners, right? Is it morally sound to lock them up? It’s surely morally sound to separate them from society. No society can endure without pervasive recognition that everyone must make choices and therefore that actions have consequences. Throwing convicts into “warehouses,” though, is another matter. I’ve never visited a prison, Canadian or American, so I don’t actually know about conditions inside. But I suspect that they are dehumanizing. In that case, it would be naive to expect inmates to respect society and its rules after leaving prison.
Attempts have been made for well over a century to turn prisons (incarceration as an end in itself) into penitentiaries (incarceration as a means to the end of repentance and therefore to the further end of reconciliation with society). Some perps do express remorse, without coercion or manipulation, for what they’ve done. That’s clearly a good thing, especially if prison officials can expedite meetings with the victims for the purpose of reconciliation. This reveals the humanity of both the perps and their victims and confirms the most basic values of society. But it works, morally, only in connection with sincerity. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a performance, a secular ritual.
Judging from the high rates of recidivism for some crimes, I’d say that current approaches are not working very well. But neither would releasing perps back into the streets without any further ado (or even without trials).
Whatever goes on prisons, though, the fusion of pop psychology, postmodernism, feminism and wokism, has had disastrous effects on society as a whole by fostering the belief that life is all about feeling, not thinking (which is why so many people now express their ideas by saying, “I feel that” instead of “I think that”). This replacement of truth with sentiment, which became pervasive during the 1960s and 1970s, explains the spectacular rise of pop therapy icons such as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil. Moreover, it explains acceptance of the current emphasis (even among those who have never attended universities and never heard of Foucault and Derrida) on subjectivity instead of objectivity, or identity instead of truth. This ostensibly therapeutic and supposedly compassionate culture is rotten to the core. It cannot support the weight of institutions that are collapsing one after another.
Sorry for going on and on, AJ. I don’t know if I’ve even answered your specific question.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Fair enough on the specific terminology and its limits although that’s what the Fraser article addresses. A bit elementary and perhaps condescending toward me to stipulate, however correctly, that life isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) divided up neatly into opposing categories. I do feel that Fraser’s approach in this article was grossly oversimplified–which of course is not on you.
I’ve spent several days here and there in what they call jails, not prisons, so my first-hand exposure is limited. But I have discussed “the joint” with many ex-convicts, including extended family members, who’ve done longer stretches, read quite a few books, and seen plenty of documentaries about life on the inside (what expertise I have!).
I agree that violent and brazen criminals need to be separated for some period of time, but I think a more rehabilitative model is called for, though some get outraged when prisoners get anything beyond the baloney-sandwich and work-tent in the desert model followed by sheriff Joe Arpaio. We are using a 19th century model of punishment with a veneer of penitence (hence “penitentiary”) and we can do better, though changing the approach won’t erase our violent crime problem.
No problem for not quite answering a question that was framed in rather abstract binaries and which no one can answer except in a somewhat subjective or opinionated way. Concerning objective vs. subjective truth: I don’t support a total erasure of all objective standards nor pure Foucauldian power-mad competing epistemologies but I am skeptical of humankind ability to arrive at–rather than strive for– a pure Objective Truth. A confident reliance on objectivity did often and still can reflect the biases or heedless self-interest of those declaring what is objective, or true (rather obvious on my part too, I know).