Can we "repair" criminal justice?

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Passing a law, committing a crime, inflicting a sanction. These are the main the stages of criminal justice at the heart of modern legal systems. The sentence that follows the committment of a crime often translates into detention in a correctional facility. But is the sanction effective if the ultimate goal is to re-educate and reintegrate the offender into society? And from the perspective of the victim, is this merely punitive approach sufficient? The answer is no, according to the vision of restorative justice, an approach with which dialogue and care for one’s suffering are valued without excluding the investigation of the crime and the related sanction. The USI Institute of Law (IDUSI) investigates and fosters this innovative vision of criminal justice, leading also to the creation of a regional group within the Swiss RJ Forum. Moreover, in a recent conference held at USI, the judiciary perspective way complemented by the interdisciplinary prospective of communication offered by the USI Institute of Argumentation, Linguistics and Semiotics (IALS), which specialises also in research on dialogue and conflict mediation.

Justice ’that cures and heals’.

Restorative justice (RJ) is a paradigm of justice in which the center of gravity is no longer just the offender but the relationship between the offender and the victim. The basic idea is that of a justice that cures and heals. "The victim of the crime has a role in the criminal trial as a civil plaintiff, a role that allows him/her to claim material compensation. But in criminal justice, the victim is left alone, emotionally, and is not supported in the processing of his or her suffering and, as a rule, the most painful questions ("why did you do this to me?" and "why me?") remain unanswered. This implies that the victim of the crime participates in the criminal trial but harbours a feeling of resentment and frustration not only towards the perpetrator but also towards the justice system", explains Dr. Annamaria Astrologo , researcher and lecturer at the USI Institute of Law (IDUSI) and at the University of Insubria. "This is where the discussion arises on the opportunity to "repair" a crime. The objective of restorative justice is in fact to recognise all parties involved: the offender, the victim, possibly, their families and communities in order to recompose the conflict between them. The very idea of recomposition is opposed to the crime".

The interdiciplinary symposium at USI

On November 26, USI hosted - by videoconference - the symposium on Restorative Justice and Criminal Mediation, organized by IDUSI in collaboration with the Swiss RJ Forum, the European Forum for Restorative Justice and the USI Institute of Argumentation, Linguistics and Semiotics (IALS). Among the speakers Adolfo Ceretti, Full professor of Criminology and professor of victim-reported mediation at the University of Milan Bicocca. The event was focused on the subject of restorative justice from the perspective of conflict mediation, highlighting the important interdisciplinary approach that is developing between the two institutes of USI, who bring together their respective legal and communicative visions to the discussion. "For several years, an important field of research at IALS has focused on communication that rebuilds relationships and tries to resolve conflicts, through an open, critical dialogue, based on reasons but also respectful towards the subjectivity of the other and their emotions", explains Professor Sara Greco of the USI Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society. "The mediation of conflicts is based, lately, on a communicative process, in which the mediator helps the parties to rebuild a "dialogic space" where disagreement had created deaf and destructive hostility. To mediate means to become almost "architects" of a new, transformative communication. From the communicative point of view, restorative justice opens up this "restorative" dialogic space even in situations where the hope for change may seem distant".

The Ticino chapter of Swiss RJ Forum

In the course of 2020, after a successful series of work sessions coordinated by Dr. Astrologo at USI, a regional group within the Swiss RJ Forum was created, with the aim of sharing knowledge on the subject of restorative justice, but also to understand how mediation and recomposition experiments can be carried out, what these experiments lead to and how they can change the perspective of the actors involved and of all of us. "We have a very active regional group in Ticino, which contributes greatly to the promotion and development of Restorative Justice in Switzerland", affirm  Claudia Christen-Schneider, President of the Swiss RJ Forum. "The group critically examines fundamental questions that are central to the introduction of Restorative Justice in our country. The close cooperation with USI and the joint promotion and development of academic education in the field of this philosophy of justice is also a very valuable and central element. Another surplus is the collaboration with Italian colleagues and the European Forum for Restorative Justice. We are very delighted that the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland is taking on a central role in this fundamental phase of the introduction of restorative justice in Switzerland".