Restorative Justice-another sustainable safety net

Restorative justice programme Pollsmoor Prison Cape Town

I’ve heard the term “Restorative Justice” before.  Probably in the context of the community meetings held in South Africa to heal the wounds of apartheid.

I also once read a story about a tribe in the South Pacific, as I remember the story,  whose members look inside of themselves to see what, inside of each of them, would do that same crime. I intuitively understood the remarkable wisdom the tribes had discovered. After reading this article in Yes Magazine, I’m struck by the difference in our punitive judicial incarceration system vs this restorative justice approach….

I’ve always had a knowing our penal system could be improved. The elegant way this Maori boy was dealt with is inspiring. The hurt feelings, the underlying causes, are dealt with in a respectful, healing way. …

As we redesign our communities sustainable, incorporating empowering and transformative programs are essential pieces. Yesterday I was blogging about the  new community for homeless veterans, and the healing power of a well thought out, compassionate support system.

These social safety nets bring out the best in us, both the “perpetrator” and the surrounding society.

Especially affected was the minority Maori population, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Maori leaders pointed out that the Western system of justice was a foreign imposition. In their cultural tradition, judges did not mete out punishment. Instead, the whole community was involved in the process, and the intended outcome was repair. Instead of focusing on blame, they wanted to know “why,” because they argued that finding the cause of crime is part of resolving it. Instead of punishment (“Let shame be the punishment” is a Maori proverb), they were concerned with healing and problem-solving. The Maori also pointed out that the Western system, which undermined the family and disproportionately incarcerated Maori youth, emerged from a larger pattern of institutional racism. They argued persuasively that cultural identity is based on three primary institutional pillars—law, religion, and education—and when any of these undermines or ignores the values and traditions of the indigenous people, a system of racism is operating.

Maori leaders pointed out that the Western system of justice was a foreign imposition. In their cultural tradition, the whole community was involved in the process.

Because of these concerns, in the late 1980s the government initiated a process of listening to communities throughout the country. Through this listening process, the Maori recommended that the resources of the extended family and the community be the source of any effort to address these issues. The FGC [Family Group Conference] process emerged as the central tool to do this in the child protection and youth justice systems.

In 1989 the legislature passed a landmark Act of Parliament. The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act totally revamped the focus and process of juvenile justice in New Zealand. Although it did not use this terminology until later, the New Zealand legal system became the first in the world to institutionalize a form of restorative justice. Family Group Conferences became the hub of New Zealand’s entire juvenile justice system. In New Zealand today, an FGC, not a courtroom, is intended to be the normal site for making such decisions.

Invoking the healing, avoiding the high costs of incarceration, and extending our compassion and wisdom to help us grow in the middle of pain, is a win-win-win for all. Together, we can evolve our consciousness. Together, we can make sustainable real!

Image courtesy of Squidoo

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