Restorative Practices / Real Justice

Restorative practicesRestorative Practices are processes that involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offence and to collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible. They can be successfully applied in schools, the workplace, communities and with young criminals”

Restorative Practices – Group Conferencing

Schools – Workplace – Communities – Young Criminals

What is Conferencing?

A community conference is a meeting of the community of people affected by an incident of serious harm in the school/workplace/neighbourhood or community setting. The conference provides a forum for which offenders, victims and their representative supporters can seek ways to repair the damage caused by the incident or situation, and minimise future harm, facilitated by an experienced convenor.

A conference gives offenders an opportunity to understand the impact of their behaviour on other people, themselves and the wider community in the school/workplace/neighbourhood and beyond. It gives offenders a chance to atone their actions. A conference gives the victims the opportunity to explain how they have been affected and to become involved in negotiating how to repair the harm.

Participation in the community conference is voluntary, and participants are free to leave at any time. If the offender does leave, the matter may be handled by the school/workplace/neighbourhood disciplinary or protocol policy. The matter, however, may be finalised if the offender participates in a positive manner and complies with the conference agreement.

Who attends a community conference?

A conference usually involves the following people:

  • The offender and their supporters
  • The victim and their supporters
  • The conference facilitator (an experienced and trained person)
  • The school/workplace/neighbourhood officer who investigated the incident
  • Other school and/or community personnel if appropriate

What happens during a community conference?

Participants listen to the stories of what happened so they have a clear understanding of the impact of the behaviour on everyone present. The damage may be physical or emotional. They then decide what needs to be done to repair the damage and minimise further harm. An agreement is reached which is recorded and signed by key people present. These people are given a copy of the agreement. Follow-up occurs at an agreed time.

What are the outcomes of a conference?

The main outcome of a conference is the written agreement described above. The terms of the agreement may include anything from an apology and assurances that the behaviour will not occur again, to community service work around the school/workplace/neighbourhood or elsewhere, repayment of money (if appropriate), repair of any physical damage to property, and undertakings by the student or family or worker to access appropriate support. The outcomes are limited only by the group’s imagination and its ability to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement. The process is designed to achieve maximum satisfaction for all those who participate.

How long does a community conference take?

This will depend on the circumstances and complexity of the situation and the number of people involved and willing to participate. The time taken to prepare for the conference is totally dependant on these factors, with the conference itself taking, on average, approximately one and a half to two hours. Considering the time usually taken to deal with such incidents, this is a reasonable investment of time for the school and community.

What are the advantages of this approach?

Victims get the opportunity to have their say in a safe forum, both about how they were affected and what they want to see happen to repair the harm. Family and other supporters also get to talk about what has happened to them as a result of the incident, and then take part in deciding in what needs to be done. The offender is confronted, often for the first time, with how their behaviour has affected others, including their own families. They take responsibility for their behaviour and are not allowed to walk away from the community of people they have hurt. Relationships are strengthened and extended, and they are given the opportunity to find a way to be accepted back into the community. Everyone at the conference learns from the experience and often there are dramatic behaviour changes.

Where this process is used to solve high level conflict or other relationship difficulties, bringing the community of people together in this way to problem-solve gives those involved insights which are often not possible with other approaches, and can also unite the community of people affected. Peace, harmony and respect are possibilities.

Restorative practices in school/workplace/neighbourhood improve effectiveness in areas of minimising disruption and improving student/workers/community outcomes, especially if these practices are adopted to deal with all matters, and the lessons learned can be used proactively to build more positive relationships between all members of the school/workplace/neighbourhood community.

Restorative practices means that the harm done to people and relationships needs to be explored and that harm needs to be repaired. Restorative practices provide an opportunity for school/workplace/neighbourhoods to practise participatory, deliberative democracy in their attempts to problem solve around those serious incidents of misconduct that they find so challenging. It also provides an opportunity to explore how the life chances of students/workers/communities (either offenders or victims) and their families might be improved, and how the system might be transformed in ways likely to minimise the chance of further harm.

Please click here http://www.unodc.org/pdf/criminal_justice/06-56290_Ebook.pdf – to view a copy United Nations “Handbook of Restorative Justice Programmes.”

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