Ex-prisoner leadership and legitimacy
: Community-based restorative justice in Northern Ireland

  • Allely Albert

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Significant academic research has focused on the challenges associated with efforts to successfully reintegrate combatants in post-conflict societies and ‘ordinary’ ex-offenders in settled democracies within the fields of conflict transformation, transitional justice, peace studies, criminology, and penology. Within such research, these individuals are often portrayed as threats to be managed, rather than as agentic subjects with the ability to actively contribute to societal peace-making efforts.

Using the case of Northern Ireland as an example, this thesis explores ex-prisoner led initiatives in the field of restorative justice, examining how ex-prisoner leadership impacts the micro-dynamics of restorative processes and the mechanisms involved in wider societal peacebuilding. To do this, the thesis analyses the particular example of Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJI), tracing the organisation’s history and locating it within the wider context of community-based restorative justice. The research explores how ideas were ‘travelled’ from other areas of the world and were adapted to Northern Ireland in a way that augmented and legitimised local organic practices, producing a unique variant of restorative justice that included ex-prisoners as practitioners.

Although restorative approaches have become exceedingly popular in recent decades, most schemes involve prisoners and ex-prisoners as participants within the process, where they serve as the ‘offending’ party within restorative encounters. By focusing on schemes that involve ex-prisoners as facilitators, this study helps expand the field’s understanding of ex-prisoner leadership and the way that ex-prisoner’s past experiences influence the practitioner role. It is contended that these dynamics can provide valuable contributions to the restorative system, with the analysis suggesting that ex-prisoner practitioners offer unique skills and qualifications, engender a distinct type of credibility, and foster a specific dimension of allyship and support. In this way, the research demonstrates how praxis developed in Northern Ireland might inform global standards of restorative justice practice and re-entry processes, examining the relevance of transferring the lessons learned from this post-conflict environment to tackling social, political, and criminal justice challenges elsewhere in the world.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2027.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsQueen's University Belfast
SupervisorAnna Bryson (Supervisor) & Kieran McEvoy (Supervisor)


  • Restorative justice
  • ex-prisoner
  • Northern Ireland
  • idea travel
  • peacebuilding
  • wounded healer
  • facilitator
  • mediation

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