Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Canberra’s Leading
Relationship Lawyers

Restorative justice – a myth?

By John Hargreaves - 9 March 2015 23

justice-jail-handcuffs-stock

In Australia we have a complex attitude towards the rehabilitation of offenders in our judicial system. We have many in our society who believe in an eye for an eye and hard-line punishment as a means of preventing recidivism.

Few will come out and support good rehabilitative programs. Rather than believing that some offenders can change their aberrant behaviour, they’d prefer to just lock them up and throw away the key.

Sukumaran and Chan seem to point to the opposite view. They have completed a custodial sentence. If they had been in the Australian judicial system, by now they would – in all probability – be out of jail. It is moot now whether they would have had the change of heart they did should they have been in our prison. But they have had a positive impact on offenders in Kerobokan where the Indonesian system has failed. Would they have had this change in our system? I don’t know.

Our penal system in Canberra is based on the understanding that offenders can change. They can be rehabilitated and can take a meaningful placed in our society when released.

This is of course for those who have not been sentenced to never to be released for heinous crimes such as premeditated murder and child sex offences coupled with violence. They are indeed locked up and the key thrown away.

But in Canberra we do try to restore offenders to the community. Note the word “restore”. I believe that we don’t try hard enough.

There is an idea in corrective services literature called restorative justice. This addresses the rehabilitation of the offender by a number of means. It often merely means confronting the offender with the victim to show the impact of the crime. This is useful in young offenders and can result in a change in behaviour. But the term restorative justice is misused across the country. I’ll try to explain, drawing on my experiences as a corrective services minister and my discussions with experts in the field.

Restoration means restoring something as close as possible to the state it was in before an incident changed things.

In the societal/judicial system, it refers to the restoration of an offender to a member of society who has no desire to repeat offending and who has made reparation for the wrongdoing. This is the obvious bit, where a person does time or pays a fine, changes their attitude and behaviour and is back among the rest of us.

But the Victims of Crime Commissioner is part of the restorative justice system also. That office addresses the damage done to a victim. Again, there are no surprises here in that it is an attempt to restore the victim to the time before the incident. It’s not always successful but in theory, it does address many issues. We always worry about the families of the victims and look for supports to be brought to bear to alleviate their pain and distress. The fundraising for Tara Costigan’s kids is a good example of this.

But there are other victims of an offence which has escaped the minds of policy makers and the wider community, which scream for attention.

The ACT Legislative Assembly drew attention to the plight of the forgotten victims of crime in its report, The forgotten victims of crime – Families of offenders and their silent sentence (2004).

It talks about the families of offenders. Society sometimes and mostly erroneously, attributes guilt to the families of offenders through guilt by association. This is unfair.

Imagine the family of a sex offender, unaware of the offender’s activities. When they find out, and when the media have their field day, the family suffer greatly. Often the family’s finances take a nosedive, the kids are ostracised at school, the wife (and it is usually a wife) can’t face family or friends without intense embarrassment and anxiety. In short the family unit disintegrates. And we do nothing to help them!

Do we bring support to the community from which the offender has been dragged to the courts? No! A street with a supportive dynamic is a rare street indeed. The streets themselves are named in the media, and often neighbours are interviewed with scant regard for the distress they may feel.

The ultimate success of a restorative justice system can be judged by how it helps all the victims of a crime as well as the offender.

So… systems and resources should be brought to bear to address the behaviour of the offender, primary victims should be helped to cope with and get over the incident. Witnesses to a crime, particularly violent ones need support and rarely get it, and the families of offenders are left to fend for themselves and need our support. If this is addressed in this way the community as a whole is restored.

Restorative justice as a system is only successful when a community welcomes an offender back into it and is fully repaired in all its facets.

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
23 Responses to
Restorative justice – a myth?
Smithers 8:26 pm 12 Mar 15

dungfungus said :

Whatever motivated you to contribute this,John?
Obviously, you have never been assaulted and then offered confronting the offender/s to show them the impact of the crime so they could “change their behaviour”.
In my case, I was able to identify the assailants and got the rego number of the vehicle they were in. Oh, how I regret that.
The police (I should say one dedicated officer) confronted the owner of the vehicle and he lied; it was only the tenacity of this police officer that found out through a neighbour that the incident I was subjected to, and random incidents involving other victims, was organised by the owner of the car and several other people in the neighbourhood were also involved.
Had the perpetrator admitted his guilt first up I would have been happy to meet with him and the others and let them see the distress and injuries he had inflicted. But he lied.
I was put under a lot of pressure by the police to accept “diversionary conferencing” but I refused. The police went to great pains to avoid revealing the names of the offenders and said I would be called to give evidence when they appeared before a magistrate.
The matter went before the courts a couple of years later without me being advised and they received a “warning”. The police refused to give me details of the hearing and said I was not required to attend the hearing after all.
That’s justice, ACT style.

Im sorry to hear that happened to you. Its awful being assaulted. I feel compelled to say that I feel that the police seem to be those that failed you here, going off the information you’ve written here only. What were the reasons that you were not given the names? Can I ask why you wanted their names? I know reasons for this varies a lot. I would want an identity also. In fairness to the offending persons, its probable that their lawyers were instructing them and anything said. Were the offenders adults? Restorative justice is the only sensible way that we have come up with so far in terms of an approach to justice. Whilst punishment must be a big part of it, so too must trying to ensure that every attempt is made to rehabilitate offenders. Particularly young offenders. Its in our interest if you think about what might be the implications of letting it fall to the wayside. Its never not going to need improving as a system that is by the way it functions. But its the best its ever been so far.

dungfungus 2:11 pm 12 Mar 15

dungfungus said :

John Hargreaves said :

Thanks to the contributors. To answer Dungers question, I have been assaulted so have first hand knowledge and secondly, I was minister for corrective services for a long time after being the shadow minister for corrective services. In that time, I read heaps and spoke to many experts in the field.
I visited prisons in in every state and overseas and spoke to prisoners in low, medium and high security classifications.

I have friends who have transgressed and have rehabilitated themselves with help.

to answer those who say, what about the victims? We do have many avenues for restoration of victims and perhaps they aren’t resourced as they should be but they do exist. the Victims of Crime Co-ordinator and VOCAL are two such agencies, the first being a government initiative and the second an NGO.

Karios Outside for Women is a fine organisation which has identified that women need support when their rellies are incarcerated so are doing something about the forgotten victims.

My point is that we need a whole community restored and need to focus on it in its entirety and not concentrate on just one part of it. It is very tempting to support the primary victim and punish the perpetrator but the essence of my piece is that there are other victims than the primary one.

Thanks again.

How were you assailants dealt with?

I see I made a spelling mistake should have been “how were your assailants dealt with?”
So, you can answer my question now please.

Acton 11:39 am 12 Mar 15

Punishment that acts as a real deterrent needs to be applied to recidivist thieves and thugs like Aaron Kenneth Campbell and Bradley Mark Flynn. This pair have graduated from neighbourhood burglaries to more and more violent crimes. Despite causing property damage, pain and distress to victims, no matter how often the police catch them, put them through the court system, they are soon back on the streets. They are examples of ‘restorative justice’ – a myth.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/bag-snatcher-jailed-for-more-than-two-years-20130305-2fiir.html
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/bank-robber-vows-never-again-20130412-2hre0.html
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/alleged-damaged-bumper-lands-convicted-armed-robber-back-behind-bars-20150205-136z43.html

tooltime 9:20 pm 10 Mar 15

& 15yo, into muling for him previously and both did serious time, both were extremely lucky to avoid the death penalty. We’re not hearing about this publicly, are we?

A key factor in reducing recidivism is simply holding down an honest job. I’ve seen firsthand the effort NSW Corrections is putting into getting offenders substance free, job ready & employable. Many prisons now have highly developed skills training programs and employ Workplace Trainers to get the offenders a trade level qualification. For example, Junee has a metal working unit that makes trailers for the NSW Fire Brigade. Other commercially minded market opportunities are being sought at other prisons like Wellington, Bathurst & Lithgow. And this is all great – but then once they get outside, their criminal history inevitably comes up…or they fall back in with the wrong crowd… Around we go again on that vicious circle.

Here’s the way it should be:

Let’s put the seniors in jail and the criminals in nursing homes. This would correct two things in one motion:

Seniors would have access to showers, hobbies and walks.
They would receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical Treatment, wheel chairs, etc.

They would receive money instead of having to pay it out.

They would have constant video monitoring, so they would be helped instantly… If they fell or needed assistance..

Bedding would be washedtwice a week and all clothing would be ironed and returned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes.

All meals and snacks would be brought to them.

They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose. Someone else would have it clean and ready for your visitors and clean up after them as well.

They would have access to a library, weight/fitness room, spiritual counseling, a pool and education…and free admission to in-house concerts by nationally recognized entertainment artists.

Simple clothing – i.e.. Shoes, slippers, pj’s – and legal aid would be free, upon request.There would be private, secure rooms provided for all with an outdoor exercise yard complete with gardens.

Each senior would have a P.C., T.V., phone and radio in their room at no cost.

They would receive daily phone calls.

There would be a board of directors to hear any complaints and the Legal Fraternity would fight for their rights and protection.

The guards would have a code of conduct to be strictly adhered to, with attorneys available, at no charge to protect the seniors and their families from abuse or neglect.

As for the criminals:

They would receive cold food.

They would be left alone and unsupervised.

They would receive showers once a week.

They would live in tiny rooms, for which they would have to pay $5,000 per month.

They would have no hope of ever getting out.

“Sounds like justice to me!”
(If You agree, forward this…)

In addition, it is a great gated community.

tooltime 9:15 pm 10 Mar 15

I too struggle to see your motivations in this article John. On the one hand, You say “Few will come out and support good rehabilitative programs. Rather than believing that some offenders can change their aberrant behaviour, they’d prefer to just lock them up and throw away the key.”

This is not true. People believe support should go to the victims first, not the perp. This is not what most people’s experience of the justice system is. On the contrary – they are embittered by the experience I.e. perps having more rights than victims. You did address this though at the back end of your article when you said:

“The ultimate success of a restorative justice system can be judged by how it helps all the victims of a crime as well as the offender.

So… systems and resources should be brought to bear to address the behaviour of the offender, primary victims should be helped to cope with and get over the incident. Witnesses to a crime, particularly violent ones need support and rarely get it, and the families of offenders are left to fend for themselves and need our support. If this is addressed in this way the community as a whole is restored.

Restorative justice as a system is only successful when a community welcomes an offender back into it and is fully repaired in all its facets.”

This contradicts what you’ve said earlier, so further clarification please. The Bali 9 kingpins relate to this article how? Andrew Chan is not a character I’d be hanging my “give him a fair go, welcome back mate” hat on. Prior to this escapade, he stood over two poor young kids, a 17yo & 15yo, into muling for him previously and both did serious time, both were extremely lucky to avoid the death penalty. We’re not hearing about this publicly, are we?

A key factor in reducing recidivism is simply holding down an honest job. I’ve seen firsthand the effort NSW Corrections is putting into getting offenders substance free, job ready & employable. Many prisons now have highly developed skills training programs and employ Workplace Trainers to get the offenders a trade level qualification. For example, Junee has a metal working unit that makes trailers for the NSW Fire Brigade. Other commercially minded market opportunities are being sought at other prisons like Wellington, Bathurst & Lithgow. And this is all great – but then once they get outside, their criminal history inevitably comes up…or they fall back in with the wrong crowd… Around we go again on that vicious circle.

Here’s the way I’d prefer my tax dollars spent:

Let’s put the seniors in jail and the criminals in nursing homes. This would correct two things in one motion:

Seniors would have access to showers, hobbies and walks.
They would receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical Treatment, wheel chairs, etc.

They would receive money instead of having to pay it out; their reward for a lifetime of Hard work & their contribution to society.

They would have constant video monitoring, so they would be helped instantly… If they fell or needed assistance..

Bedding would be washedtwice a week and all clothing would be ironed and returned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes.

All meals and snacks would be brought to them.

They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose. Someone else would have it clean and ready for your visitors and clean up after them as well.

They would have access to a library, weight/fitness room, spiritual counseling, a pool and education…and free admission to in-house concerts by nationally recognized entertainment artists.

Simple clothing – i.e.. Shoes, slippers, pj’s – and legal aid would be free, upon request.There would be private, secure rooms provided for all with an outdoor exercise yard complete with gardens.

Each senior would have a P.C., T.V., phone and radio in their room at no cost.

They would receive daily phone calls.

There would be a board of directors to hear any complaints and the Legal Fraternity would fight for their rights and protection.

The guards would have a code of conduct to be strictly adhered to, with attorneys available, at no charge to protect the seniors and their families from abuse or neglect.

As for the criminals:

They would receive cold food.

They would be left alone and unsupervised.

They would receive showers once a week.

They would live in tiny rooms, for which they would have to pay $5,000 per month.

They would have no hope of ever getting out.

“Sounds like justice to me!”
(If You agree, forward this…)

In addition, it is a great gated community.

justin heywood 4:56 pm 10 Mar 15

John, the last time you posted on justice issues (June 2014) you described Goulburn prison as ‘inhumane’ – as evidenced by its high rate of recidivism, and predicted that the AMC will have much lower recidivism rates once the traumatised prisoners from NSW ‘wash through’ under the more ‘humane’ AMC.

I think you will agree that a high recidivism rate is not only a sign of failure; it represents lives wasted, families damaged and society more dangerous and poorer.

However, I read that the ACT has the second highest rate of recidivism in the country* and that the rate of recidivism has increased markedly since the AMC opened **.

Of course these reports may be inaccurate, and please correct me if they are. But, assuming they ARE accurate, how do you explain it John? AMC has been open for 5 years. Are the traumatised NSW prisoners still washing through? Even if they are, shouldn’t the recidivism rate be falling, not rising sharply?

Or is it a sign that the ‘human rights compliant’ AMC, despite the flowery rhetoric and the lofty moral posturing, has in fact been an abject failure – that the prisoners are in fact, no better off and the community much the poorer for it?

Surely as the ex-Minister, you would have access to accurate figures on recidivism rates. So please correct the media reports if they are wrong.

* Canberra Times. Crime blowout: $10m repeat offenders bill
Date March 30, 2014

**ABC online. ‘More criminals reoffending in Canberra’
By Louise Willis
Posted Tue 1 Oct 2013, 8:25am AEST

dungfungus 10:23 am 10 Mar 15

John Hargreaves said :

Thanks to the contributors. To answer Dungers question, I have been assaulted so have first hand knowledge and secondly, I was minister for corrective services for a long time after being the shadow minister for corrective services. In that time, I read heaps and spoke to many experts in the field.
I visited prisons in in every state and overseas and spoke to prisoners in low, medium and high security classifications.

I have friends who have transgressed and have rehabilitated themselves with help.

to answer those who say, what about the victims? We do have many avenues for restoration of victims and perhaps they aren’t resourced as they should be but they do exist. the Victims of Crime Co-ordinator and VOCAL are two such agencies, the first being a government initiative and the second an NGO.

Karios Outside for Women is a fine organisation which has identified that women need support when their rellies are incarcerated so are doing something about the forgotten victims.

My point is that we need a whole community restored and need to focus on it in its entirety and not concentrate on just one part of it. It is very tempting to support the primary victim and punish the perpetrator but the essence of my piece is that there are other victims than the primary one.

Thanks again.

How were you assailants dealt with?

John Hargreaves 10:20 am 10 Mar 15

Thanks to the contributors. To answer Dungers question, I have been assaulted so have first hand knowledge and secondly, I was minister for corrective services for a long time after being the shadow minister for corrective services. In that time, I read heaps and spoke to many experts in the field.
I visited prisons in in every state and overseas and spoke to prisoners in low, medium and high security classifications.

I have friends who have transgressed and have rehabilitated themselves with help.

to answer those who say, what about the victims? We do have many avenues for restoration of victims and perhaps they aren’t resourced as they should be but they do exist. the Victims of Crime Co-ordinator and VOCAL are two such agencies, the first being a government initiative and the second an NGO.

Karios Outside for Women is a fine organisation which has identified that women need support when their rellies are incarcerated so are doing something about the forgotten victims.

My point is that we need a whole community restored and need to focus on it in its entirety and not concentrate on just one part of it. It is very tempting to support the primary victim and punish the perpetrator but the essence of my piece is that there are other victims than the primary one.

Thanks again.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 8:36 am 10 Mar 15

+1 to the milkman and proboscus.

The article would have a lot more credibility if it focussed more on restoring the victims of crime. Has any work been done around bringing criminal and victim together to work on restoration, such that the criminal is actually included?

Frankly I think the lack of focus on victims of crime is disgusting, and this article perpetuates the problem.

wildturkeycanoe 7:58 am 10 Mar 15

Restoration means restoring something as close as possible to the state it was in before an incident changed things.

Do you mean before the crime was committed or before the criminal became a scum of society, like when they were supposedly mistreated during childhood and became a society hating cretin?

The latter seems to be a little out of reach for our wardens and requires some very special rehabilitation with psychological help. I think that is too pricey and unfair for society, considering law-abiding citizens struggle to get the same help and indeed may end up heading down that dark path of crime without it.

In the societal/judicial system, it refers to the restoration of an offender to a member of society who has no desire to repeat offending and who has made reparation for the wrongdoing. This is the obvious bit, where a person does time or pays a fine, changes their attitude and behaviour and is back among the rest of us.

Unfortunately, criminals can be smart enough to play the system and behave like angels whilst behind bars and then when released they go back to being themselves again. The trick is knowing who is “actually” repentant and will not do the same things again.

Proboscus 6:55 pm 09 Mar 15

“The ACT Legislative Assembly drew attention to the plight of the forgotten victims of crime in its report, The forgotten victims of crime – Families of offenders and their silent sentence (2004).”

The real victims of crime are forgotten in this town while you and party pour money into programs and reports that don’t work on recidivist offenders. We have a justice system that is broken, which panders to deals between the DPP and the offenders legal representatives to get the best outcome for the offender. The sooner your mates in government are voted out, the better off we’ll all be.

Queanbeyanite 6:39 pm 09 Mar 15

John,

end the ‘war on drugs’,
replace the minimum wage with a subsidy to employers,
all welfare is paid through an employer,

Then contract the ‘ACT’ to the parliamentary triangle, join NSW merging with Yass shire, you know it makes sense.

milkman 6:09 pm 09 Mar 15

It’s a nice story, but missing a very key issue: what about restoration of the victim of the crime? As usual, their rights, needs and recovery seems to have been completely overlooked.

Kambahbarry 5:43 pm 09 Mar 15

Well written, John. Can I put in a word for Kairos Outside for Women. This is a Christian organisation which is interdenominational – members come from almost all major denominations: Catholic, Protestant, Charismatic and more. The organisation exists to provide support to the women in the lives of those in gaol, wives, daughters, sisters etc. It seeks to help them by showing that there are members of the community who care. It partners with Kairos Inside which runs programs inside the AMC and seeks to establish a Christian Community inside the AMC while also showing that there are community members outside the AMC who care about restoration

dungfungus 5:24 pm 09 Mar 15

Whatever motivated you to contribute this,John?
Obviously, you have never been assaulted and then offered confronting the offender/s to show them the impact of the crime so they could “change their behaviour”.
In my case, I was able to identify the assailants and got the rego number of the vehicle they were in. Oh, how I regret that.
The police (I should say one dedicated officer) confronted the owner of the vehicle and he lied; it was only the tenacity of this police officer that found out through a neighbour that the incident I was subjected to, and random incidents involving other victims, was organised by the owner of the car and several other people in the neighbourhood were also involved.
Had the perpetrator admitted his guilt first up I would have been happy to meet with him and the others and let them see the distress and injuries he had inflicted. But he lied.
I was put under a lot of pressure by the police to accept “diversionary conferencing” but I refused. The police went to great pains to avoid revealing the names of the offenders and said I would be called to give evidence when they appeared before a magistrate.
The matter went before the courts a couple of years later without me being advised and they received a “warning”. The police refused to give me details of the hearing and said I was not required to attend the hearing after all.
That’s justice, ACT style.

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site