of Aotearoa New Zealand
A survey of experiences and needs of victims of crime in 2013.
The Ministry of Justice conducts research on victims’ experience of, and level of satisfaction with, the restorative justice process. The last survey was completed in 2011 which found a large majority (82%) of victims were satisfied with the restorative justice conference they attended. More than three-quarters (77%) said they were satisfied with their overall experience of restorative justice, before, during and after the conference and 80% said they would likely recommend restorative justice to others in a similar situation. A new survey is currently underway with results expected to be released by October 2016.
Based on the findings in this report, it is estimated that the 1,569 restorative justice conferences held during the 2011/2012 financial year will lead to 1,100 fewer offences being committed, and 650 fewer prosecutions being required, over the next three years.
General Manager, Restorative Practices Aotearoa
We are often told how restorative justice is lowering crime rates and how participation in restorative justice reduces re-offending. Recently we are told that “greater use of restorative justice is one of the ways we’re lowering crime rates through reducing re-offending.”
This comment and many like them, tell only a small part of what is a very big story. A restorative justice conference is only one small part in affecting the change of behaviour of offenders. In a very broad summary restorative justice provides an opportunity for victims and offenders to meet in a safe environment with their whānau and support people and engage in a conversation. This conversation may lead to a myriad of programmes, plans or interventions that will work with the offender to address the behaviours and effect change.
This work can be over long periods of time and take lots of expertise and skills such as those who work in the family violence arena, addictions, anger management, and a host of other specialised areas. These have taken practitioners years to be trained and gain enough experience to work competently in these areas. This is where a lot of the real work in influencing behaviours can happen and I would like to acknowledge and applaud all who do this work, for they must take most of the credit.
The restorative justice conference can play an absolutely vital part in this process because it can provide the impetus for change, that one meeting can be the “spark” that ignites the fire for change. It is only a “spark” and change often requires the fire to effect the change.
What we don’t measure well and we need to be a lot smarter in doing this, is the impact and opportunities that the restorative justice conference provide for victims and whānau. That’s whānau of all participants, the victims and offenders.
The benefits and well-being of victims that are the direct result of attending a restorative justice conference need to be measured and need to be valued. Much of the value in the RJ criminal justice world appears to be offender focused. By doing this we are getting only half the story. I would tend to think that the real value of restorative justice is in the impact and change that it has provided through the conference process to the victim’s and their whānau. It is time their change was measured and valued, by not doing so are we not diminishing their value?
Restorative justice is not responsible for lowering crime rates, it is the culmination of many hours of work from the policy makers and decision makers in government, the practitioners in the field, the desire of offenders to change, the victims willingness to participate and engage in the system. It is team effort by many across many fields.
It’s just an opinion.
Restorative Justice Facilitator
The Restorative Justice Movement in New Zealand has entered into a Faustian pact with the Ministry of Justice and is in danger of losing its soul. The first RJ group came out of Auckland, calling itself ‘Te Oritenga.’ Six socially concerned individuals thought that the justice system was not fair to victims and that they could offer a better way of proceeding. A couple of sympathetic judges threw them a case from time to time. They worked without payment, scrabbling to cover costs with charitable grants. By 1998 the group had expanded to 18 members; growing internal tensions and disagreements caused it to blow apart.
These earliest RJ practitioners were free to proceed as they wished without any restraint from judges or other officials. Strong personalities inevitably clashed and a unity of spirit was insufficient to keep them bound together. There was no central power source, and no structure or procedures to resolve tension. They had more or less total freedom and the absence of a centralized power structure more or less guaranteed the group’s explosive fragmentation before very long.
In the intervening twenty odd years, a lot has changed. There are now 26 charitable trusts around NZ, each with its (certified) Manual of Operations. Practitioners are formally contracted to these trusts which in turn are contracted to the MOJ. There are schedules of payment, statements of best practice, formal training and accreditation, regular opportunity for I/S training. Rules and structures abound. These seem to increase regularly; if a facilitator seeks ‘endorsement’ as a Domestic Violence practitioner, they must now undergo a two hour ‘professional conversation’ in addition to the formal written application.
From an absence of controls we have moved to an (increasing) plethora of them. This can be accurately described as the process of creeping bureaucracy – it is just what happens when a government department pays people to do its bidding. Those people (in the current weasel phrase) must be ‘held accountable.’
Practitioner autonomy is now tightly circumscribed; having begun as an adjunct to the justice system, it is now firmly in the grip of the beast. This is not an unqualified good although I have the impression that many facilitators are untroubled by it, indeed, almost flattered to consider themselves part of such a prestigious institution.
The trouble is that RJ does not sit easily within the wider justice system because it is an implicit critique of it: it only exists because a number of people consider that the current Criminal Justice System has some serious and fundamental flaws which need addressing. NZ inherited its system from eighteenth century England, and only now are we beginning to realise how cruelly it treats the victims of crime, and of how inadequately it treats the criminals. In many ways, it is now a bizarrely irrational system. Only RJ stands against this in seeking to completely change the discourse by getting rid of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘offender’ and subjecting the deeply embedded notion of ‘punishment’ to a thorough critical analysis. RJ seeks to replace a punitive retributive system with the idea of restoring and repairing relationship, so that ‘justice’ becomes re-defined as ‘justice as right relationship’ in Jennifer Llewellyn’s phrase.
My great fear is that this level of understanding escapes most facilitators (it is not being taught anywhere outside the universities), and that too many of us are slowly and willingly being strangled by the MOJ’s octopus tentacles so that the radical critique offered by RJ practice will disappear without trace. Facilitators can look forward to a future of state servanthood, complete with performance appraisals every six months, a hierarchy of senior and junior facilitators each progressing annually up the pay scales, not forgetting the four weeks annual leave with one week’s extra annual leave after ten years.