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A healing method of justice

Published: 
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Hazel Thompson-Ahye and Terry O’ Connell, the police officer from Australia who introduced restorative justice to the United States and the United Kingdom at the International Institute For Restorative Practices (IIRP) Annual World Conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, last October.

Hazel Thompson-Ahye, attorney at law, mediator and child rights advocate, the managing director of Epiphany Consultancy Services, a training and consultancy company, has announced that new courses, Introduction to Restorative Practices and Using Circles Effectively, will take place at Cascadia Hotel on Tuesday and Wednesday. It will precede the training course, Facilitating Restorative Conferences, which is being held for the fifth time and will take place on Thursday and Friday, at the same venue.

“The Restorative Conference is reactive, in that it responds to wrongdoing by bringing together in a conference, the offender, the victim and their respective supporters in an effort to repair the harm caused by wrong-doing. It is used only where the offender admits to the wrongdoing or is found guilty and is willing to make amends,” Thompson-Ahye explained.

She said while, according to Zehr, criminal justice regards crime as a violation of the law of the state and focuses on establishing guilt and inflicting punishment, restorative justice looks at a crime as a violation of people and relationships and focuses on determining what must be done to make things right and restore broken relationships.

It focuses on the needs of the victim who has been hurt and gives that victim a voice to tell the offender directly the impact the offence has had on him/her, to ask questions and have a say in what must be done to right the wrong. Supporters of both the victim and offender are engaged in the process, as they, too, are affected by the wrongdoing. 

While the criminal justice system focuses on past misdeeds, the emphasis of restorative justice is healing of the parties who are involved in the wrong-doing and their future relationship. It promotes reintegration of the offender into the community, rather than isolation and stigmatisation. Thus, it has been effective in reducing recidivism. Studies have shown the significant ways in which restorative justice has reduced costs by lowering the prison population. 

Thompson-Ahye said what is even more significant is how the process has been documented as one that stops the “schoolhouse to prison pipeline” by saving young people from a life of crime. “Restorative practices, which includes circles training is proactive,” she said. 

“As Wachtel explains, restorative practices involve both informal and formal practices that are used to build relationships and a sense of community, promote meaningful communication and manage conflicts. Circles has been very effective in building social capital, the connections between individuals (Putnam 2001). Research shows that this training has been used successfully to reduce behavioural problems, including bullying and has lessened suspensions and expulsions, drug and alcohol use and even teen pregnancy. 

She added that fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practices is that “human beings are happier, more co-operative and productive and more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them.” 

Thompson-Ahye said the training helps to build empathy by encouraging young people to talk about their feelings and teaching them how to resolve conflicts. Thompson-Ahye explained that restorative justice is a not a new concept but was used in indigenous cultures by first Nation people all over the world as their method of justice before colonisation. It was revived in the 1970’s after victim/offender mediation started in Canada and spread to other countries. 

Today, in many jurisdictions around the world restorative justice and other restorative practices are being used, especially in youth justice systems as diversion from court.

New Zealand was the first to pass legislation, The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act in 1989. The Child Justice Act 2008 of South Africa provides for restorative justice and the Crime (Restorative Justice) Act 2004 in Australian Capital Territory makes it possible to use conferencing at all stages of the criminal justice process from pre-trial diversion to parole.

Northern Ireland introduced youth justice conferences in its Justice (N I) Act 2002 and has been pleased with the outcomes. Other countries in Europe, Asia and South America have embraced restorative practices. 

Many jurisdictions use police officers to conduct conferences and others involve police officers to outline the offence committed. Terry O’Connell, the person who brought restorative justice to the US from Australia was a police officer. O’Connell was also invited to the United Kingdom in 1996 by the then Chief Constable to present a seminar to over 100 police officers on restorative conferences and was subsequently invited to train police officers in conferencing.