Restorative justice and empathy-based interventions for animal welfare and wildlife crimes

This review summarises the available evidence on the use of community-based restorative justice and empathy-based interventions in animal welfare and wildlife crimes.

2. Restorative Justice

Restorative justice seeks to provide communities and individuals impacted by crime, offending and harmful or concerning behaviours and those who have caused the harm with an opportunity to repair the harm that has been caused.[10]

Empirical evidence shows that restorative justice has a positive impact on victims[11] and can provide victims with a more satisfying justice process.[12]

Restorative justice approaches can include:[13]

  • direct communication between the person who has harmed and the victim, for example as a closed face-to-face meeting or through the use of video conferencing
  • indirect communication between the person who has harmed and the victim, for example through the use of shuttle dialogue, written, audio or video messages.

While a decision about punishment will still be a matter for the court (or police or procurator fiscal if direct measures are appropriate), communication involving the victim, family member, and/or community member can inform decisions. This can also help improve outcomes outwith decisions on punishment.

Restorative justice has been available in Scotland for several decades, but there are currently limited numbers of restorative justice services available. These services were usually small-scale, and restricted to certain geographical areas and local authorities.[14] Restorative justice provision is mainly limited to youth crime and, for the most part, addresses less serious offences. This may be due to a lack of funding and support for specialist training for practitioners, who must be better equipped to deal with sensitive and complex offences.[15]

2.1 Restorative justice for animal-related crimes

On reviewing the evidence, it became evident that there are a number of barriers to using restorative justice in animal-related offences.

Primarily, restorative justice must be entered into willingly by all individuals involved in the harm.[16] Victim engagement poses a challenge for offences against animals who cannot volunteer themselves. Evidence also shows that restorative justice is most effective as a 'storytelling' device, allowing victims to have their voices heard in the justice process.[17] This is problematic for animal-related crimes, where direct victims are unable to voice their harm. Victims' own views of justice and reparation may also be difficult to understand in crimes where animals cannot 'communicate' what they mean.[18] In cases of environmental crime, 'surrogate victims' representing the harmed community have been used in courts for restorative processes. For example, a representative from an environmental society previously acted on behalf of a river in a restorative conference.[19]

Related to the question of who should speak for the victim, is who should be involved in the wider restorative justice process. Broader conceptualisations of victims, of those taking responsibility for harm, and of 'communities', may be necessary. This could include 'communities of care', which consist of those who have a connection with those involved in the harm (for example, family, friends, and others who are directly affected by the harm). Communities of place (both geographic and sense of place) may also be important.[20]

Finally, it is apparent that understanding the various forms of violence, neglect, and cruelty, and how they relate to each other, will be needed. This is important as routine versus singular offences against animals may be a critical factor in the effectiveness of restorative justice approaches. Potential programmes may need to ask about individuals' 'every day' forms of violence, cruelty, and controlling behaviour towards animals, as well as their 'outburst' behaviours.

2.2 Existing examples

Although restorative justice has been established as an effective and adaptable approach for reducing reoffending, there are comparatively few examples of restorative justice services used for animal-related offences. However, there are a small number of examples of restorative approaches used in environmental crimes involving animals. This includes requiring individuals found guily of crimes to pay compensation to organisations who provide restorative work with the victimised wildlife.[21] There are also the following two examples of recent uses of restorative justice in animal welfare contexts.

Animal cruelty and neglect conferencing in Ireland

Ireland's Department of Justice funds research into restorative justice, and collects a number of case studies from their partner agencies, where restorative practices were used in offences. In a recent example, the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit, a part of the Irish Probation Service, was used for a case of animal cruelty and neglect.[22] The offender had accepted full responsibility for their part in the crime and agreed to take part in a restorative justice service. Consequently, a conference was set up, involving the offender, their probation officer, a representative from an animal welfare charity, a member of the Restorative Justice Unit, and a support person for the offender. The conference was seen as effective, with the offender voicing his remorse for his actions, and offering to donate money to an animal welfare charity. The offender was also supported by his probation officer to write a reflective piece on the restorative process.

Animal abuse court case in the United States

In 2012, restorative justice was used with two juveniles charged with aggravated animal abuse in the United States. As an intervention, the boys were presented with a 'talking circle', involving their parents, community members, and the coordinator of a local wildlife rehabilitation centre. This intervention was said to be an effective way of keeping the youths out of a formal detention facility. A study into its effectiveness states that the boys reported experiencing a 'personal transformation' and a 'feeling of empowerment' from both the talking circle and their voluntary work at a rescue centre.[23]



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