Scholars of restorative justice have long debated its theoretical relationship with formal criminal justice. This analysis critically examines the range of sociostructural conditions in contemporary society that have halted the spread of restorative policies in practice and prevented them from realizing their transformative potential as an alternative system of justice. These factors are attributed largely to a punitive penal culture that is characterized by policy-making based on penal populism, the governance of risk and a managerialist criminal justice agenda; and the widespread co-optation of restorative programs by the state. This broad argument is explored in the context of two particular case studies – recent developments in youth justice and in sexual offending respectively in England and Wales and elsewhere. This examination ultimately highlights challenges for restorative justice in the current risk-driven penal climate and advocates a need to re-evaluate its relationship with formal state justice.
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