Harsh Punishment or Alternatives: Which is the Better Crime-prevention?

  • Helmut Kury
Keywords: Restitution, victim–offender mediation (VOM), empirical results of VOM, procedure of VOM, results of VOM from Germany


The classical reaction to crime is punishment, then, if it does not have the effect we are looking for, still harsher sanctions. For the most part, state powers concentrate on the offender and his or her punishment, while the victim is ‘used’ as a witness in court proceedings. Empirical criminological research in recent decades has shown more and more that ‘just punish’ is not the best solution to reduce crime. Old traditional societies, such as various Native American groups in North America, had more peacekeeping-oriented approaches to crime, dealing with both the offender and the victim. The name we use for these today is ‘mediation’ or ‘restorative justice’. In the last few decades, these measures for handling crime and conflicts have been rediscovered, and they are used more and more in Western countries, with positive effects. For example, Germany’s criminal code and, especially, the country’s juvenile penal code suggest more ways in which victim–offender mediation and restitution can be used; however, legal practice shows reluctance to use the newly specified procedures. Elsewhere in Europe at state level, these techniques are used more in Western industrialised countries, less in former Eastern-bloc states. Differences can be seen also in the role of the mediator in practice: it is seen differently in some respects. Research results show clearly that mediation has a more positive effect on offenders and also victims than the ‘classical’ court procedure does, and thereby it helps more to re-establish peace in society.