Restorative Justice work in Thames, New Zealand
Philip Macdiarmid writes about the restorative justice work of a small charity in Thames, New Zealand.
In 1999 New Zealand Friends, at their Yearly Meeting, issued a statement on “Transformative Justice,” (now known as Restorative Justice). This statement supported the concept, seeing it as an important aspect of the peace testimony, and encouraged Friends to become involved.
Some Friends have responded to this challenge. I am one of them, and so is Phoebe my wife. Friends’ active participation in RJ work in NZ has basically been confined to three places, Christchurch, Whanganui, and Thames (where I live). I can only speak about the Thames part.
In 2001 Phoebe and I, together with a tiny group of like-minded people, (none of them Friends), formed a Charitable Trust (Restorative Justice Services Hauraki).
One important aspect of RJ is arranging, and facilitation of, meetings between victims and offenders in the criminal justice arena, and this has always been our main focus. To start with, we were completely without any sort of formal training for the task, (we were soon to have training by the Ministry of Justice), however we were almost immediately asked by a victim of shoplifting to arrange a meeting between him and the offender. He didn’t want to press charges against the young woman, a solo mother so, unusually, this did not involve the Court. The offender was willing to participate. It had a successful outcome, with the offender agreeing to pay reparation, and to do work (Church cleaning).
I was one of the first to complete the training, along with a woman who had been a prison manager. This stood us in good stead when in early 2002 we facilitated an RJ conference in the remand wing of a prison. Since then our group has grown, and we now have eleven facilitators, including 3 who are currently completing their training. Cases are referred to us by the District Court, and the group has to date completed well over 200 conferences. Offences cover pretty well everything except those for which a long term of imprisonment is mandatory, such as murder, manslaughter, and rape. RJ can be very effective in serious offending.
Typically, the cases we get are pre-sentence. The offender will have pleaded guilty and been convicted. The Judge adjourns the case, and refers it to us to see if the parties can be brought together (RJ is a voluntary process, and the victim may be unwilling to meet the offender face to face). Our focus is on helping the victim.
How can RJ help? It provides an opportunity for the parties to meet in a safe, neutral setting, in which remorse and, often, forgiveness can occur, and solutions agreed to which can help the victim restore to some extent his/her shattered life. We report to the Court, with copies to the parties, what has happened in the conference, and the Judge is required by law to take notice of the report.
The offender hears, maybe for the first time, the total impact of the offending on the victim. The victim can discover the circumstances of the offending, and what motivated the offender. If the offender is truly remorseful, and follows up remorse with tangible help to the victim, this may benefit the offender by reducing the penalty imposed by the Court. We can of course give no guarantee that it will have this effect.
The work is often deeply emotional, and facilitators have to remain personally uninvolved. We find it deeply satisfying. We have in our group people with an impressive range of experience. A former criminal defence lawyer, a Probation officer, a woman who ran a training school for Maori youths in trouble, a psychologist with experience counselling trauma victims in war zones, a teacher, a trade union mediator, a person with a degree in criminology, an ex Army officer, a nurseryman, and others. I am a retired lawyer with long experience in Citizens Advice Bureaux.
Of the total number of RJ facilitators in NZ, very few are Quakers. However, it is fair to say that we all believe in the basic goodness (that of God) in all people. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it!