of Aotearoa New Zealand
The Ministry of Justice has developed a set of best practice restorative justice principles and standards. These documents are currently being updated. This is to ensure that they continue to support the delivery of a quality RJ service with consistent, credible and safe practices. (2004)
A recent request came from Mayor Annette who believed a restorative approach could help resolve a tenant’s inappropriate behaviour at one of the Council’s housing complexes. The inappropriate behaviour had been occurring for over a year and when Council staff received complaints about the behaviour, they approached the tenant to resolve it. Unfortunately, the behaviour continued and as Council were concerned for the welfare of the other tenants, there were grounds for the tenant to find alternative accommodation.
Shelly Harkness and one of our Restorative Justice Facilitators, Rere Sutherland, implemented a restorative approach firstly meeting individually and confidentially with all those concerned to hear their stories about what they were experiencing. A number of issues were raised and the majority were not about the inappropriate behaviour of the tenant in question, but were about issues that contributed to it. Shelly and Rere decided the focus of the meeting, when everyone came together, would be to discuss the major issues of car parking, who tenants contact for particular needs and finally, what type of behaviour the tenants wanted to enjoy in the housing complex. The issue of the tenant finding alternative accommodation would be considered in private following the meeting.
Careful preparation before bringing everyone together led to a successful restorative meeting. Four tenants, a Social Welfare Worker and three Council staff experienced the magic of restorative meetings where the incredible tension and angst felt in the beginning was relieved through everyone sharing their stories and of course, everyone listening to others’ stories. There were certainly some heated moments! However, this is conducive in a restorative process where sharing concerns and releasing built up emotions in a safe environment, is the first step clearing the way for the group to then work together towards a positive outcome.
At the end of the restorative meeting, there were acknowledgements the process helped them to understand each other and what everyone needed to live compatibly in the complex. Council were to make changes to the car parking to alleviate that major issue, everyone now knew who to contact for what need (eg Council for landlord issues, Police for safety issues, Social Worker for welfare issues), and the group came up with a Code of Conduct to ensure appropriate behaviour was encouraged. Subsequently, the tenant in question had a meeting with Council and with the new Code of Conduct in place, did not have to find alternative accommodation.
A sound restorative approach always includes follow up to ensure what was promised in the meeting has been actioned and whether the changes needed had been sustained. Seven weeks later, Shelly and Rere were pleased to hear the following:
“everyone’s got the message [about the behaviour] and are getting on well now”
“it’s made me realise how I come across to other people”
“it was a worthwhile intervention…we could all see the reasons behind the inappropriate
behaviour and address those”
“it’s a good process”
“there’ve been no issues since”
“we’re not so closed minded now, we’re willing to discuss things”
The following quote reflects sustained behaviour change:
“[the tenant] has realised [their] behaviour was inappropriate and hasn’t done it again”
This example reflects how the principles of restorative practice can be applied in any environment where people interact. We’re thankful to Mayor Annette Main and to all the participants who were open and willing to resolve the difficult issues through restorative practice.
We look forward to continuing working closely with the Whanganui District Council, and other organisations / community groups in Whanganui to transform conflict in a respectful way. Every time we implement restorative practice we are working towards the Restorative City vision: creating an environment for all people to thrive and succeed together through respectful relationships.
Lindsey Pointer is a restorative practices facilitator, trainer and researcher currently pursuing a PhD in Restorative Justice at Victoria University.
While working for a Restorative Justice non-profit in Colorado, I was responsible for leading a facilitator training for the High School Restorative Justice Student Team. On the first day of the training, we played a game called “Out of the Box.” The game is designed to help students think of creative contract items that use an offender’s strengths and assets to repair harms and make things right. While setting up for the game and dividing the group into two teams, the silliness that characterizes the student team started up.
“You never said we couldn’t Google it!” one student joked.
I laughed along with the students, and then realized that we had struck on a great illustration.
“Well, let’s just think about that for a moment. If I Google ‘How-can-Jordan-who-likes-to-draw-cartoons-and-make-silly-videos-repair-the-harm-from-stealing-Alex’s-longboard,’ what will come up?” I joked back, referencing the people and circumstance from the scenario we had been using for training.
The students laughed and agreed that a Google search like that wouldn’t come back with anything helpful.
“So what if I Google ‘Colorado-penalties-for-misdemeanor-theft?’”
We all agreed that Google would have a clear answer for that search.
“So if Google can give us answers for the traditional justice system so easily, why isn’t Google helpful in restorative justice?”
This started a great conversation that outlined some of the main points that differentiate restorative justice from the punitive system.
The students talked about how restorative justice considers the individuals involved, and takes into account the unique harms that have resulted to the victim, community, and offender. They also talked about how the best restorative justice agreements are creative and unique to the case. It is the collective brainpower of the people in the circle, considering the individuals involved, their strengths and assets, and the specific harms from the incident that allows those factors to be synthesized into creative ideas to repair harm. Being truly restorative involves understanding the complicated world of individuals, the range of harms (physical, financial, emotional, spiritual), and practicing creative problem solving. This is a uniquely human ability.
With smartphones in their pockets giving them access to an almost infinite source of information, students today are being educated in a world very different from the world I attended school in not too long ago. When you can look up the date of the Declaration of Independence or the numerical value of Pi wherever you are in just a few seconds, what is the point of memorizing it for a test? Why invest the mental energy when you can just Google it?
This new reality calls for a radical shift in public education, especially at the Middle and High School levels. This shift is a liberating one! The time previously devoted to memorizing events, facts, and dates can now be applied to creativity, invention, and problem-solving. We can begin to adopt educational paradigms that capitalize on our uniquely human abilities. This era allows us to spend less time memorizing the correct answer and more time looking at questions with many possible correct answers. The growth of technology is a catalyst for us to begin coaching students in the valuable skills of creative thinking and problem solving.
Restorative justice compliments this shift. Rather than a student knowing that getting in trouble in class results in detention, we can now coach students to think critically about the impact of their actions in class on the teacher, peers, school, and themselves and then brainstorm ways to make things right and repair relationships with those individuals. This is meaningful learning because it is responsive to the world around us, actively shaping the communities we live in, and absolutely ungoogleable!