Post by Fernanda Fonseca Rosenblatt, recently completed DPhil student

I successfully defended my doctoral thesis in January 2014, under the supervision of Professor Carolyn Hoyle. The aim of my thesis, entitled “The Role of Community in Youth Offender Panels in England and Wales”, was to reach a better empirical and theoretical understanding of what ‘community involvement’ means and what work it does in restorative justice.

In this way, a case study approach was adopted to examine the involvement of the community in one selected practice of restorative justice, namely youth offender panels in England and Wales. Data collection comprised 127 interviews with key stakeholders involved in youth offender panels, as well as observation of 39 panel meetings, and analysis of related documents (e.g. panel reports and contracts).

I argued that, on the whole, the role of ‘community’ in youth offender panels is more ‘theatrical’ (or rhetorical) than real: community panel members do not have a real say in the type or extent of reparation the offender should undergo, they do not clearly benefit from this reparation, and they do not support the reintegration of offenders into the community.

The experience of youth offender panels suggests that the greater involvement of lay members of the community – or their changing role from mere witnesses/juries to facilitators – does not help to fully incorporate community harm into criminal justice practice. The English and Welsh experience also suggests that restorative justice advocates have placed unreasonably high expectations on the benefits of lay involvement. For example, this study found that lay members of the community do not have better ‘local knowledge’ than professionals.

All in all, a key lesson from the experience of youth offender panels is that – while ignoring the kind of community that features in contemporary, urban contexts – restorative justice programmes run the risk of paying lip service to genuine community involvement. In conclusion, thus, I have argued that restorative justice programmes need to start from a more concrete and up-to-date notion of community. While operationalizing community involvement, they need to acknowledge, all at once: the importance of place; the importance of family links, friendship and other social ties; and the importance of similar social traits and identities.

I am currently working on turning my thesis into a book, and plan to publish a couple of related articles in scholarly journals. Since February 2014 I am back in Brazil working as an Assistant Professor at Catholic University of Pernambuco, where I have been teaching Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure as well as supervising a number of undergraduate dissertation related to criminal law and criminology. My research interests continue to lie in the fields of Restorative Justice, Community Justice and Youth Justice. I have also recently been appointed by the Brazilian Bar Association as a member of its commission on legal education, which has been set up to evaluate the legal education standards of over 30 law faculties in the state of Pernambuco.

I will never forget my experience at the Centre for Criminology as one of the most challenging and fulfilling of my life. One could not wish for a better working environment, and I feel very fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to study there.

I can be reached at ffrosenblatt@unicap.br.