About Restorative Justice and the need for more culture changePosted: 22/06/2012
Our deep:black roots are in the arts and in conflict resolution, particularly mediation. As a community mediator I’ve recently also been trained in facilitating restorative justice meetings, which feels like a great honour because I’ll be joining an age-old tradition of conflict resolution that’s been practised in most civilisations long before developing abstract legal principles upheld by complex justice systems.
It also feels like a great responsibility, partly because of this legacy and my desire to do it justice; and partly because of the scepticism in our society about such an alternative approach to justice when we have got so used to abdicating power and authority to experts – in this case the courts, judges, solicitors and the law.
As a restorative justice facilitator I’m not a legal expert (I actually don’t even understand all that much about the legal system in this country because I’ve not lived here for very many years).
As a restorative justice facilitator I’m not even an expert in the conflict I’m dealing with – one of the key principles of restorative justice is one that we share wholeheartedly at deep:black: the experts in the conflict are always the people that are in it. The Norwegian Nils Christie wrote about this in the 1970s in his article “Conflict as Property” where he observes that “victims of crime have … lost their right to participate … the … rights to their own conflict”, and his point is all about giving back to people their property, their ownership over their conflict and its resolution.
And that’s, in a nutshell, what restorative justice tries to do today: a victim-led process that’s seeking to create a safe space where the person that has been harmed (usually called the victim) can tell the person that has done the harm (usually called the offender) how they have been affected by what has happened, how their life has been changed by it, and their sense of safety, wholeness, respect etc. The idea behind this is to give the person that has been harmed an opportunity for getting questions answered, for healing and for moving forward – and the person that has done the harm an opportunity for understanding and recognising the consequences of their behaviour on the other person, and an opportunity to put things right.
Restorative Justice is not about forgiveness – though this might sometimes be an outcome – and fully recognises that a harm can’t be undone. It’s much more about accepting the complexity of the context in which conflict and crime happen, and bringing back the simplicity of dealing with the actual people involved in it. To sum it up with Arundhati Roy: “to never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple”*.
There are practical reasons to simplify justice especially when we think about resources (like time and money) involved in our justice systems and the high re-offending rates. But the most exciting thing about restorative justice is its possibility to transform: to transform the life of a victim into that of a person that has experienced harm and can move on with it; to transform the life of an offender into that of a person who has done harm, can learn to take responsibility for this and can be given a chance again.
How much more exciting could this be if restorative justice wasn’t just a more or less known field within the justice system, but a community based approach to dealing with local issues locally, if society at large, families, communities, schools, work places could be part of this transformation, could embrace values of trust, vulnerability, self-responsibility, openness, complexity and humaneness?
This week I’ve attended a very inspiring seminar at Khulisa UK by George Lai Thom, a South African restorative justice practitioner and consultant who’s been involved in setting up restorative justice systems in some South African communities that experience a high level of violent crime. It’s been very encouraging and heartening to hear how communities and legal institutions in South Africa are very enthusiastic and supportive of restorative justice systems, to the extend that even in cases of serious violent crime (including rape and murder) and family violence, restorative justice processes have been successfully carried out, and victims and offenders felt empowered to move on. George Lai Thom emphasised that it’s been part of his learning that “behind every offender is a victim”, and that victims often want to make peace with what has happened.
What came up for me as I was listening to him is how powerful restorative justice is if we are not scared of it: if we – each of us as members of our families and communities – could stand in our personal power and take responsibility for our own experiences and those of our communities, and for our healing. That would take restorative justice to a totally new level, away from a narrow legal system to a new culture of co-creation.
@petrahilgers 22 June 2012
*Arundhati Roy, The End Of Imagination, 1 August 1998