Restorative conferences continue to empower victims

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I have always been a strong supporter of restorative processes since the time HMA worked on the design of the original pilot programme for the Ministry of Justice back in 2005. The idea of ‘facing up’ to those that we have hurt is at the heart of the process; it is at the heart of accountability. Historically this function was taken over by the court process which in many ways robbed victims of their voice in having input into the deciding the outcomes. It doesn’t matter whether that is in the context of a personal relationship between colleagues, or in a more formal restorative justice conference setting.

It was therefore with interest that I saw the media release by New Zealand’s Justice Minister Judith Collins on the positive impact that restorative justice conferences have on reducing crime and empowering victims.

The research shows recidivism rates by offenders who went through the restorative justice process are 12 per cent lower compared to similar offenders who did not participate.

In every District Court in New Zealand judges have the ability to defer sentencing for six weeks to explore the possibility of victims and offenders coming together in a restorative justice (RJ) conference. RJ conferences provide the opportunity for the offender to hear from the victim what the experience and impact of the offending has been for them. It puts a real face to the impact of crime rather than one-step removed.

In our evidenced-based era, it is heartening to see the outcomes start to stack up. A lot of this has to do with the dedicated work of a small group of people working for RJ agencies and initiatives around the country. This then can translate into better resourcing. Last year the Government announced an additional 2,400 RJ conferences – totalling 3,600 in 2014/15 – as part of Budget 2013’s $4.4 million investment in adult pre-sentence restorative justice.

It is estimated that the 1,569 RJ conferences held during 2011 and 2012 will lead to 1,100 fewer offences being committed and 650 fewer prosecutions being required over the following three years. While this is good news from the perspective of reducing further offending, the key issue is around victims having their voice within the process. The outcomes of the RJ conference are then taken into account by the sentencing judge.

A big hands together for those men and women who facilitate RJ conferences as a way of enhancing victims’ voices within the criminal justice system.

Published on Monday, June 9th, 2014, under Offender work

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