of Aotearoa New Zealand
Prof Chris Marshall
This article originally appeared in the Vice-Chancellor's column in Victoria News.
On July 9, as Chair in Restorative Justice at Victoria University, I will be hosting a day-long round table to explore the goal of becoming a “restorative university”. Co-sponsored with the University of Otago, the day will be opened by the Provost, Professor Wendy Larner, and has drawn registrations from around the country, as well as expressions of interest from Australia.
Victoria University is well placed to host such a conversation since we have already taken significant steps towards embedding restorative values and practices in our student conduct policies and Halls of Residence, and have begun discussing their potential for addressing workplace and employment relations as well.
Dr David Karp, Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Skidmore College in New York, and a nationally known commentator in America on the use of restorative initiatives to address sexual violence and harassment on tertiary campuses, will provide expert commentary in what promises to be a highly interactive symposium.
As well as the issue of sexual harm, participants will consider the role of restorative processes in building inclusive and resilient communities on campus, resolving interpersonal conflicts and grievances, and responding to damaging behaviours in the workplace.
The proposition behind the day is that the relational philosophy and peacemaking practices of restorative justice have an invaluable, and potentially transformational, role to play in achieving positive change in organisational settings, so that, in Victoria University’s case, we can better achieve our declared ambition of becoming a “values-based university”.
The values in question here are the five ethical values listed in the Strategic Plan, those of “respect”, “responsibility”, “fairness”, “integrity” and “empathy”. These values are expected to permeate all the University does, including its strategic commitment to civic engagement, sustainability, inclusivity, equity, diversity and openness.
Significantly, these ethical values are precisely the same values that undergird and guide the practice of restorative justice--which means that a key mechanism for operationalising the values of the Strategic Plan and holding ourselves accountable to them in our day-to-day work is striving to function as a restorative university.
Many people will have heard of restorative justice, though their understanding of it is still limited. Essentially restorative justice refers to a relational way of responding to wrongdoing and conflict that seeks, above all else, to repair the harm suffered, and to do so, where possible, by actively involving the affected parties in facilitated dialogue and decision-making about their needs and obligations and how to bring about positive changes for all involved.
Compared to other, more standard approaches to justice, restorative justice is distinguished by its commitment to repair rather than punishment and to engaging those most directly affected by the harm in determining together how best to achieve this repair and prevent repetition.
The modern restorative justice movement emerged in Canada about 45 years ago and has since spread all around the globe. It is now considered to be one of the most significant innovations in the administration of justice to have arisen in the modern era.
As well as having a growing impact in the criminal justice sphere, restorative principles have migrated into a wide range of other social settings as well, particularly into the education and employment sectors.
When applied outside the justice system, such as in schools and workplaces, restorative practice has retained its distinctive emphasis on responding to episodes of misconduct or conflict by seeking to repair the harm caused and on using an inclusive dialogical process to do so. But it has also expanded its scope of concern beyond these negative or reactive measures to include positive relationship-building and communication strategies and efforts to achieve institutional change.
It is this combination of reactive and proactive measures that is central to the vision of being a restorative university. A genuinely restorative institution would be one that is committed, at a policy level, to responding to specific incidents of conflict, failure or misconduct by offering restorative options, where appropriate and wanted, to those involved, so that both the substantive and relational harms are addressed, and one that also uses restorative practices proactively to foster inclusive, equitable and empathetic relationships between those who live, work and study together.
One set of measures without the other is insufficient to achieve lasting change. It is not enough to respond to negative events in a restorative way, as valuable as that often is. It must be accompanied by a corresponding effort to invest in practices that forge respectful and caring connections between people and that create a meaningful sense of belonging in the university community.
If Victoria University conscientiously embraces both commitments, the result will surely be a more peaceful, supportive and productive environment to work in. And who does not want that for themselves?
Rodney Holm, Facilitator
This is a call to all facilitators urging them to begin to consider the possibility of declining to take on any more Domestic Violence cases that involve Intimate Partner Violence. The reason for this rather startling claim is that this may be the only way to protect the integrity of the RJ process. There are two reasons for this suggestion, and I will now examine them both.
Before a facilitator can do anything with the persons involved in an IPV case, they have to fill in an 18 page document containing a number of questions, including questions about ‘lethality.’ This is so that the innocent female victim of IPV will be ‘safe’ if a conference proceeds. It is possible to argue that the concept of ‘safety’ is now so overblown that it has become a straitjacket for facilitators and the RJ process. Both are tightly confined. So confined in fact that the process may no longer be RJ at all. Changing the metaphor, I want to argue that RJ facilitators have been headlocked and dragged into the vehicle of the official justice system. Once in there we become part of the punitive arm of the state. The ‘offender’ is an individual (male) person, and we are part of the process that is determined to punish him so that he will stop being violent.
This is morally dubious, ethically suspect, and intellectually fraudulent. It is fraudulent because punishment rarely ever changes behavior and the whole purpose of RJ is to change people’s behavior. Defining IPV as a ‘crime’ (since 1995) has not altered the incidence of the behavior, yet we continue to act as if it does. RJ is not interested in punishment, or singling out one person as ‘the offender’. RJ is all about relationship, yet this is the very thing that we are not allowed to address in IPV cases on the grounds that it is merely a covert way of blaming the victim. Something is wrong somewhere.
The second reason why all facilitators should rebel against IPV cases, is that these intimate relationships have been in place for a long time, and they are the product of long-standing deeply entrenched cultural and family patterns of behavior, which occur against the social structural constraints of education, health, housing, employment, ethnicity, gender and class. If we leave aside the five percent minority of genuinely pathologically violent men, the other ninety five percent are the result of the perfect storm of the confluence of all the negative indices indicated just above. I have met with many incarcerated men who have wept profoundly at what they have done to their partners, yet whose tears are also for their inability to escape the spider’s web of circumstance which is constraining their ability to carry out the most basic and defining characteristic of masculinity as they understand it, to have a job and provide for their family. These men cry, and cry out for help. Yet all we offer them is the harsh face of punishment through incarceration.
As facilitators we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into this god forsaken process of beating up on these beaten men. Have we forgotten the transformative potential of the restorative justice process? Facilitators everywhere, begin to think seriously about this. You have nothing to lose but your belief in a morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest system of punishment.
It was a pleasure to get to interview so many interesting and influential people over the last year as we developed our course, Restorative Justice and Practice: Emergence of a Social Movement.
In coming months, we'll hope to make some of the full-length interviews available that we originally captured for the EdX.org course. Here's the first.
The core concepts of the Māori worldview, as they relate to resolving disputes in the pre-colonial era, are discussed in this interview with Dr Khylee Quince, senior lecturer in law at Auckland University. In this interview, you will be taken through the core concepts of the Māori worldview as they relate to resolving disputes in Aotearoa's pre-colonial era.
Prof Chris Marshall, the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice at Victoria University of Wellington
I recently read an article in which the author tries to identify the traits of people he regarded as “moral heroes”, those who dedicate their lives to fighting for just causes. In reading his analysis, I couldn’t help but think of the people we all know and work with in the restorative justice movement.
Moral heroes, the author suggests, embark on a life of service because, at some point in their lives, somebody planted an ideal of what a good life looks like, often by setting a high personal example. Captured by this picture, the person’s own moral identity becomes fused with the moral ideal. They put this ideal into action in their daily lives, not for utilitarian reasons, but simply because “this is who I am, this is what I do”. Such people are also marked by a life-long commitment to learning, by a capacity to carry on in face of opposition, and by a strong network of support. But perhaps most relevant to our work as restorative justice practitioners is the trait of hope.
“People who lead these lives tend to possess an insane level of optimism, a certainty that history does change for the better and that achieving justice is only a matter of time. They remain undaunted even in the face of severe hardship and assume every wrong is temporary…Their efforts are generally built around healing some rupture in society, reconciling differences, bringing the unlike together, a move from fragmentation to wholeness. However contentious the world may look, they have a mind-set that at our deepest level we are all connected in a single fabric. Some of these moral heroes even seem to sense that no matter how diverse their fields of work are, they’re all somehow part of the same big struggle.”
That, to me, is the essence of what it means to embrace the restorative vision. What do you think?
Lindsey Pointer is a restorative practices facilitator, trainer and researcher currently pursuing a PhD in Restorative Justice at Victoria University.
'This year, Victoria University has begun offering a Graduate Certificate course in Restorative Justice. Last week, Dr. Tom Noakes-Duncan delivered a fascinating class on Restorative Pedagogy, raising the question, “How should restorative practices be taught?”'
Lindsey Pointer writes more about the concept of a "restorative pedagogy" on her blog.