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?
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.
Secondary Sexting: A Restorative Framework for Understanding and Addressing the Harms of Sexting Behaviour among Secondary School Students
Emma Wicks' recent Master's Thesis has been published through the Victoria University Research Archives and will soon be made available online.
In New Zealand there is a growing concern over the engagement of teenagers in sexting, especially so-called ‘secondary sexting’, the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. This thesis aims to analyse the behaviour of sexting through a restorative lens and to outline the role of restorative responses can make in a New Zealand context. It combines a review of international literature on the subject with a pilot study of senior students at a New Zealand secondary school, a school that has deemed itself to be a “restorative school”.
The empirical study employs a mixed-methods approach. The quantitative phase involved students (n=125) in Year 11 -13 completing a survey to ascertain the prevalence of sexing and their attitudes towards criminalization of different types of sexting. The qualitative phase involved focus groups with students (n=13), one-on-one interviews with staff (n=7) and parents (n=17) discussing how they would respond to a hypothetical scenario of secondary sexting. The study finds that although only a small percentage of students engaged in secondary sexting, secondary sexting is the cause of significant harm and there is need for an effective response.
This thesis argues that restorative response has the most promise at addressing these harms. It also shows that applying a restorative framework to the analysis of the practice enables us to identify and challenge victim blaming tendencies in both popular opinion and official responses. It proposes that for New Zealand to adequately respond to sexting there needs to be a shift away from viewing secondary sexting as a result of poor choices to one that focuses on respectful relationships and the obligations that go with them.
Dr Thomas Noakes-Duncan is a lecturer with the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice – School of Government, at Victoria University of Wellington.
‘The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’ Dostoevsky’s sentiment remains as true today as it did during his. We might extend his insight by saying civil society can be judged by how many it sends to prison. On this measure, New Zealand would not fare very well at all, as we have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the OECD.
With the prison population fast approaching 10,000, Jesus’ words take on new significance: ‘I was in prison and you visited me…for just as you did this for the least of my family, you did it to me’ (Mt. 25:36-40). Such visiting requires both being in solidarity with those behind bars as well as exploring approaches other than punishment for dealing with the harm caused by crime. This is where restorative justice comes in.
It offers a way of conceptualising the justice needs that exists in those affected by wrongdoing as well as offering a set of skills for satisfying those needs. As a way of doing justice, it makes space for mercy and compassion to guide all respective relationships towards a more peaceable outcome. Crucial is respect for each person’s human dignity and what needs to be done to restore it.
In the context of crime, restorative justice is concerned with restoring a sense of trustworthiness in offenders as they take responsibility for their actions. Restoring wellbeing in victims as their needs are addressed and dignity repaired. Restoring relationships damaged by the offending, especially within whānau. Restoring belonging by extending to the released prisoner all the benefits and obligations of equal citizenship. And finally, restoring peace to society by addressing the drivers of crime.
The church could have a special role in realising this high calling. By supporting initiatives that bring together those harmed by crime with those who have done the harm, for the purpose of seeking healing, the church participates in Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation. By welcoming released prisoners into its community and extending its resources, including the community’s source of love and belonging, the church fulfils its mandate of being the beloved community.
This work of seeking restoration in wider society is not additional to but, an extension of the church’s own sacramental life. The social actions performed in the Eucharist are meant to overflow the altar so others may begin to taste and see the reconciliation God has ordained for all creation. The community of faith are called to be a foretaste of God’s peaceable revolution, witnessing in its life together His justice and mercy.
It is this understanding of justice that the church needs to bring to bear on the pursuit of justice in civil society, especially on how prisoners and their victims are treated. Doing so will not always be easy; indeed, more will be demanded of us. We owe as much to those who are in need of mercy, and we will be a better society for it.
This article was originally published in WelCom, a newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses. It is republished here with permission from the author.