Restorative Justice

The Tendering of New Zealand’s Restorative Justice Services: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Restorative Justice New Zealand

A guest post by Janet Sim Elder

The recent announcement that government tendering of Restorative Justice (RJ) services throughout Aotearoa New Zealand to a smaller number of providers based here in NZ or from offshore is imminent. Judith Collins, Minister of Justice, has also announced there an increase of funding of $4.42 million in the May budget. Clearly this National Government wants to expand services.

A good thing you might say. Yes it is, but … and there is a large ‘but’. Ministry staff numbers entrusted with servicing the Restorative Justice groups around the country have gradually diminished over the last thirteen years since we in Dunedin and three other jurisdictions trained and were part of the world-first pilot of RJ as an alternative way of doing justice within the Justice system.

From a vibrant, forward-thinking, large group of public servants, the staff in this unit now number about five. The logic is, I suspect, that it is much easier and more cost efficient for a small group of Ministry staff to work with a handful of providers; the fewer the better.

Restorative Justice Aotearoa, the national grouping of all RJ services in NZ, is not in a position to put in a tender for all those services and is clearly not interested in doing so.

Nicola Taylor, the feisty Director of Anglican Family Care in Dunedin under whose umbrella we work as Restorative Justice Otago, providing long-term, highly professional and skilled work in bringing victims and offenders together to hear each other’s stories and to begin repair of the harms caused by offending, has decided we have no other option than to submit a tender ourselves. It’s risky because we have no certainty we will be successful, and because there is no contingency plan if we fail. Our story will be replicated throughout the country for the other RJ providers.

justice is what love looks like in publicSo we are committed to going all out for a strong bid to provide services in our Otago region. We have a depth and breadth of experience and are known and trusted by victims and offenders alike, as well as by local professionals working within and around the court system. This all has to be done in a few short weeks rather than months. Anglican Family Care is committing resources including in governance and making tenders to ensure we put in the best tender we can.

If you can help with brief letters of support for our bid, or for the RJ group near you elsewhere in the country in the same boat as we are, then, who knows, Peter does not have to be robbed in order to pay Paul and both might have a chance to live life in all its fullness!

To help out, please contact:

Restorative Justice Otago
c/- Anglican Family Care
PO Box 5219
Dunedin, Otago, NZ
p: +64 3 477 0801

some monday morning link love

Doing justice honourably

A guest post by Janet Sim Elder.

A crucial question in this election year is how do we do justice honourably with both victims and offenders? How can recidivism continue downwards and how do public attitudes change to being solidly evidence-based? How do we face the challenge of changing the justice landscape? Can we provide the moral courage to help our society take steps towards a more just and merciful society?

Biblical pillars of doing justice and loving mercy [Micah 6:8b] are heavily strained in NZ. We rush to apportion blame rather than ask who has been hurt by crime. We mete out a retributive ‘justice’ which perpetuates further injustices. We legislate for three strikes and there is no more mercy. Have we the moral courage to do the harder task? To ask the restorative questions ‘Together, how can we put this right? Are forgiveness and reconciliation possible?’.

Voices which have shaped increasingly punitive justice policies recently with both major political parties have come from a minority. Populist politicians listen to these voices above others. Shameful stripping of citizenship for all prisoners is the latest in punitive legislation in the news as I write.

Voices we might listen to more attentively as we prepare to vote include the Chief Justice, the Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, Judge Sir David Carruthers Chair of the Parole Board[1], and Chief Family Court Judge Andrew Becroft – all with intimate knowledge of our justice system.

They all firmly support evidence-based change, and a better informed wider society, alongside the Silverstream Declaration soon to be released by the organisations which wrote the Declaration at the “Breaking down the Barriers” Conference in October 2010. Sponsors of this landmark gathering in Upper Hutt were Prison Fellowship New Zealand [PFNZ], Prison Chaplaincy Service of Aotearoa NZ, Pathway Trust, Pillars Inc. and the Salvation Army. National and international research was shared by experts in their fields, showing conclusively there are alternatives that do work to get prison numbers down.

The conference confirmed we need together to do more about the impact of crime on victims, that Restorative Justice works positively for both victims and offenders alike. When prisons treat people with more dignity and compassion, reoffending goes down. We could benefit from having open prisons like Norway where dislocated families have visiting rights over a weekend with their parent. Children see their dads on the weekend. Imagine that!

With an incarceration rate soaring over most other OECD countries[2], the most painful question is – could we become a less punitive society? There’s been a 35% increase in population in 187 NZ prison sites in the last five years! Corrections is now the largest government department. Fiscal sense? The Silverstream Declaration suggests it’s ‘fiscally irresponsible’ to be building more prisons.[3] Reputable international evidence is mounting that incarceration does not work for most offenders.

Working in Restorative Justice, I gain the growing conviction that victims’ stories of crimes (from burglary to rape and brutal murder) are stories to be told to offenders. To stand in their victims’ shoes is the darkest place to be, but easily avoided. Courageously telling stories, in a safe place, face to face, is what can turn both the lives of victims and offenders around towards life no longer dominated by painful pasts. The best apology victims say they want is when they know the offender will never commit the crime against anyone, ever again.

Offenders, male and female, find it very difficult to rehabilitate. Creative, hopeful ways forward were outlined at the conference: projects bringing church and community group resources together to address reintegration issues facing people as they return to life in the complex world outside the prison.[4]

What does the Gospel story teach about God’s ‘justice and mercy’ and how we act towards other human beings? The supreme example comes from Jesus on the cross.

‘Revealed in his dying prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is the conviction that justice in itself is not enough, that the humanity of the perpetrators of injustice must be upheld alongside the humanity of the victims, and that justice must serve still higher goals of reconciliation, healing and rehabilitation…’[5].

If we want to change the justice landscape, say ‘no more’ to quick-fix legislation, knee-jerk, non-evidence-based reactions embodied in flaky legislation, we must seriously become better informed. In the light of God’s generous giving to us in Christ, we cannot do less.

Janet Sim Elder is an elder of Knox Presbyterian Church, Dunedin, and convenor of their Social Justice Workgroups.

[1] A recent survey by the Board over the last ten years on serious criminals released on parole showed the number re-offending in any one month over that time was reduced from 100 incidents per month ten years ago to the most recent  average of 45 incidents per month.

[2] NZ has the fourth highest rate of any OECD country except  the USA (1), Mexico (2) and the Czech republic (3). Communication from Barry Matthews, CE Corrections [07/10/10].

[3] The average cost p.a. to keep one prisoner incarcerated is $90,000. It costs an average $3,600 for a year’s community service sentence.

[5] Graham Redding: Crime and Justice: a Biblical and Theological Perspective, from Crime & Justice (pub. PCANZ  October 2010)