Tuesday 5 April 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Restorative Justice Practices

Mr FINCH (Rosevears)  - Mr President, recently there was a forum at the Boathouse in Launceston about restorative practices.  The guest speaker was a former magistrate.
Mr PRESIDENT - Chief magistrate.
Mr FINCH - Thank you.  It was Michael Hill.  I would also like to mention a long‑term leader in restorative practice and restorative justice and a former police officer, John Lennox.  This is one of his pursuits in retirement.
The problems in our justice system go to the very core of our society.  Too many Tasmanians end up in our school for criminality, over at Risdon jail.  There are too many offences against the person, and property, in Tasmania.
These are complicated problems and there are no easy solutions.  A constructive public debate is now underway.  Part of the debate includes the subject of restorative practices, especially in the area of young offenders and youth justice.  We now have the new education act in process.  Now is the time to have a good look at and to debate the effectiveness of restorative practices.  So, what are they?
I am indebted to the former principal of the Riverside Primary School and wonderful educator, Ivan Webb.  This is one of his pursuits in his retirement, as well.  He gave me a very succinct explanation:
 When someone does the wrong thing, it seems reasonable to expect those in authority to impose some form of punishment as both a penalty for the offender, and a deterrence to others.  The penalty is also intended to deter the offender from reoffending. 
 However, there are several issues arising from this approach, which focuses on punishment. 
 Firstly, punishment doesn't work every time, or even often enough for many types of crimes.
 Secondly, having been formally punished is often an additional ongoing penalty.  A criminal record reduces the offender's chances of success and wellbeing and increases their likelihood of reoffending.  This is the reason Youth Justice tries to keep young people out of the formal justice system.  A person who has been found guilty of an offence will have significantly reduced chances of rewarding employment and good, supportive relationships which are going to be fundamental to long-term success and wellbeing, including good behaviour on the part of that person.
People who experience low levels of success and wellbeing are more likely to reoffend. 

The result can be a vicious circle where the offender's punishments increase and mean less over time.  In the meantime more and more others are harmed.

Thirdly, formal punishment is simply done to the offender.  The offender is largely passive in the process and may not understand the seriousness of what they have done.  As a result, he/she is unlikely to take any real responsibility for his/her actions; and does not help to repair the harm done.
That is the problem, as Ivan Webb explains.  So, how do we tackle it?
Restorative practice is part of the answer, I believe.  It is an approach in which the offender would have a good understanding of the impact of what they have done, take responsibility for their actions, and offer and be prepared to contribute to repairing the harm done, if that is possible; have good prospects to achieve future success and wellbeing, and be committed to not repeating those actions.
Restorative practice, as used in many schools, businesses, government departments, social services around the world, and restorative justice, as used in youth justice and similar services, offer an evidence‑based approach.  Under the right circumstances, it has the potential to address those issues I have mentioned. 
Ideally, the right circumstances would include the parties having an understanding of what participation is likely to mean; the willingness of the offender to participate; the willingness of the victim to participate; the availability of a suitably skilled and trained facilitator, and the availability of suitable third party support to both the offender and the victim.
In summary, we need every person to be a responsible and contributing citizen.  Hence the need to restore those who are failing to meet this requirement.  When things go wrong and people are harmed we need ways to respond to the harming behaviour, to repair the harm done, to hold the offender accountable, address the needs of the victim and reduce the likelihood of that situation being repeated.  Punishment and the fear of punishment may play a part but our responses need to include elements that will properly restore those involved. 

It is a convincing argument.  Dollars spent on a restorative practice system could be saved from the high cost of imprisonment.