of Aotearoa New Zealand
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.