Authors Name: 
Kathy Liu
Australian National University
Award winner

Moral Emotions and Restorative Justice: A Legal-Psychological Analysis of the Role of Shame and Guilt in the Restorative Justice Process in Offender Rehabilitation

Restorative justice (RJ) provides a criminal justice mechanism that presents a complementary or diversionary mechanism to traditional court systems for the purposes of addressing crime. It works in a more holistic manner than traditional systems to restore the harm caused to both victims and offenders. This essay explores and critically evaluates the role that shame plays in RJ theory from a legal-psychological perspective. Shame has been theorised to be the crucial element within RJ that helps shape beneficial outcomes within offenders, encouraging offender rehabilitation as a result. However, empirical research on the area of shame shows that the effects of shameful experiences may not be consistent with the propositions of RJ theory. Instead, the area of moral emotions is a complex and entwined sphere where there are many overlaps. Empirical research suggests that guilt, rather than shame, holds the capacity to positively transform individuals and invoke beneficial outcomes such as lower reoffending. Consequently, this essay suggests that RJ practice should elicit guilt within offenders and briefly explores how shameful experiences may be moulded into guilt experiences within the RJ context through an examination of the psychological literature.