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Book Review

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Annalise Acorn, restorative justice, compulsory compassion, recidivism, criminal justice


Annalise Acorn has produced an immensely engaging book about love, sexuality and law, written with verve and elan; however, it paints a hugely misleading picture of restorative justice that could be seriously damaging to what is arguably the most significant development in criminal justice since the emergence of the nation state. Restorative justice is changing the nature of criminal justice systems the world over. The Canadian criminal justice system is a leader in this regard, though it is far from being alone. Simplistic and dysfunctional systems of punitive criminal justice are being altered and supplemented by restorative programs that are capable of obtaining high rates of offender compliance with sanctions as well as high rates of satisfaction for victims. Moreover, restorative justice, when judiciously used, has demonstrated a capacity for reductions in both recidivism rates and the costs of criminal justice. Annalise Acorn's Compulsory Compassion: A Critique of Restorative Justice does not reflect these important realities. It is a peculiarly fascinating but fundamentally flawed book. The effort to demonstrate why this is the case is worthwhile, since the book is written with such an attractive style and enthusiastic energy that it could easily beguile the unwary reader into acceptance of its author's jaundiced assessment of restorative justice. The problems begin with the book's title. First, to be effective, restorative processes must be and are voluntary, not compulsory. Secondly, at its core, restorative justice is about accountability for wrongful behaviour, not about compassion. This critique, of course, may sound tedious by comparison to the alliteratively striking and paradoxically pointed description of restorative justice as "compulsory compassion." Nonetheless, the alluring appearances of this faulty nomenclature are dangerously deceiving.