Volume 58

Virtual Reality: Prospective Catalyst for Restorative Justice

by Kate E. Bloch

A 2018 U.S. Department of Justice report assessing data from thirty states found that eighty-three percent of those individuals released from state prisons in 2005 were rearrested within nine years. When a revolving door ushers five of six individuals back into custody and decimates communities, more effective approaches to criminal justice demand attention. In countries around the world, restorative justice has been emerging as a promising candidate. It generally involves an interactive process in which stakeholders identify and grapple with harms caused by the crime. But many environments lack the resources to invoke its benefits. While restorative justice takes various forms, the crux of each variant involves perspective taking—seeing the harm and its consequences through the eyes of those who experienced it. Cognitive science research suggests that the emerging technology of virtual reality affords an innovative and often especially compelling approach to perspective taking. Embodying an avatar through virtual reality unlocks the opportunity to experience the world as another. Avatars could make virtual perspective-taking encounters a valuable introduction for subsequent in-person encounters or offer a perspective-taking opportunity when in- person encounters are not practical or prudent. This Article explores how virtual reality could become a catalyst for restorative justice. 

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