News + Views

Answering your questions about restorative justice and how it can complement the justice system

The Centre for Innovative Justice recently held a live webinar during Law Week in May 2020. The webinar features Centre for Innovative Justice and Open Circle staff Renee Handsaker, Anna Howard and Stan Winford discussing restorative justice and how it can complement the justice system.

Webinar outline

  • Restorative Justice: What is it and how can it complement the justice system?
  • This webinar was a presentation delivered by the Open Circle team as part of Law Week 2020. The webinar covered the following areas:
  • Introduction to restorative justice and restorative justice conferencing
  • Examples of other restorative practices
  • Discussion around the benefits of restorative justice and how it can meet justice needs
  • Introduction to Open Circle, our principles and processes
  • The stages of an Open Circle RJ conference
  • Case study: Hayden and Lyndi
  • Q and A


Q and A

Below are questions that were asked during the live webinar. Some of these questions were addressed during the webinar. Here, we provide our considered responses to all questions asked.

What are the implications for restorative justice operating in the COVID-19 environment of social distancing?

CIJ’s restorative justice service Open Circle is still accepting referrals and is able to conduct most of our intake and preparation processes online or on the telephone.

One of Open Circle’s conveners, Asia Swida, has written a blog on this issue which can be accessed here.

I work with families that identify as Aboriginal. How is cultural safety managed when working with a non-Aboriginal perpetrator and an Aboriginal victim?

At Open Circle we recognise the need for cultural safety when responding to harm. This not only relates to cultural awareness but to the recognition that structural and systemic forms of power and inequality have an impact on people’s lives in different ways.  Currently none of the conveners at Open Circle are Aboriginal, therefore we would seek secondary consultation from an Aboriginal-led community organisation to guide us on best approaches to cultural awareness when facilitating processes of this kind. We would work closely with each individual to understand their cultural needs and adapt our process accordingly. We would approach these conversations with care and only proceed to a face-to-face meeting if all participants felt safe and comfortable to do so.

Is there research suggesting that restorative justice can be effective for those who have been sexually assaulted/abused?

Yes there is. A good overview of this research can be found in the CIJ publication Innovative Justice Responses to Sexual Offending.

Is the goal of the CIJ’s restorative justice service aimed at providing an alternative to the criminal justice approach (to decrease the number of incarcerations) or is the CIJ providing a service that better responds to Victims’ needs?

Our goal is to enhance the accessibility of RJ services to a broader range of people. This is because research demonstrates that restorative justice processes offer benefits to people harmed, people responsible for harm and the broader community that cannot be met by the conventional justice system.

Our current process is designed to sit alongside, or as an adjunct to, the conventional justice system. We also acknowledge that the conventional justice system can perpetuate structural inequality and contribute to exacerbating people’s experience of harm.  We would like to see a Victorian legislative scheme that embeds a restorative justice process within the conventional justice system as either a diversionary or pre-sentence measure.

I work in the area of abuse of older people (mainly by adult children). Do you know of any use of restorative justice in this area?

There is work going on in this area in NZ which you can read about here.

It was mentioned that restorative justice is used as an adjunct to traditional incarceration. Is there a world/school of thought that restorative justice could be engaged with as the main form of serving of justice, or some sort of opt-in option for the victim to allow the perpetrator to undergo non-traditional sentencing with mediation and restorative justice conferencing as an alternative to traditional means?

That school of thought certainly exists. There are examples of restorative justice being offered as an alternative to the conventional justice system. Most of these programs are offered in response to low-level offending and are diversionary.

Who initiates the contact with participants and do you approach the offender first to see if they are willing to be involved in the process prior to engaging with victims?

We receive referrals from people harmed, people responsible for harm either themselves or, more commonly, through their family or professional support workers, such as social workers or lawyers. We work with the referring party and their support people to determine the best way of approaching the other party and when to do so.

What program is working with young offenders?

The Group Conferencing Program operates as a pre-sentence option in the Children’s Court of Victoria. You can find more information here.

Hi speakers! I am interested to know if you engage with the Prison Legal Education and Assistance Project (PLEA project) at all. If so, I would love to hear about your connection to this initiative. Thanks!

We are not currently involved with the PLEA project but we are aware of the great work that they do.

We are interested in working collaboratively with any individuals or organisations who share our aim of supporting increased access to restorative justice responses for those who may benefit from them.

Could you name the “dedicated service for family violence matters” please?

The service is called the Restorative justice for victim survivors of family violence. It was established by the Department of Justice in response to recommendations of the Family Violence Royal Commission.

Is there a risk assessment component during the preparation stage that might in certain circumstances lead Open Circle to assess a matter as not appropriate for conference due to possibility of causing harm to either party?

We conduct risk assessments throughout the process to determine participant safety and support needs. In some circumstances we assess matters as not appropriate for conference because of the risk of harm to either participant.

How do you work with clients in regional areas?

At the moment, we conduct most of our intake and preparation processes over the phone or via videoconference however we also are able to travel to regional areas to meet participants and conduct conferences. Many of our conferences have taken place in regional areas.

From your practice experience, are there any specific cohorts of people (particularly offenders) who are more open, involved and receptive to restorative justice? Say, young people, women or any others?

No, it really depends on all of the circumstances.

Is the process used with people with cognitive disability?

We would ask people what their support needs are in order to participate. CIJ has done a lot of work about how to respond to the needs of people with a cognitive impairment through its enabling justice and supporting justice work.

Does Open Circle only work within Victoria? If so are there other similar programs available in other states like South Australia?

    • Open Circle predominantly works with people from Victoria however is happy to consider referrals from outside Victoria if there is no other suitable local alternative.
    • Various restorative justice programs and services are accessible in other Australian jurisdictions. This 2017 Australian Institute of Criminology survey of Restorative Justice in Australia provides an outline of the Australian programs available at the time the survey was completed, including South Australian programs.

What is your capacity? Is there a waiting list? How will you manage if/when you get one?

We are currently managing the referrals into our service, and there is not a waiting list. If that changes in the future, we would let participants know and address resourcing and prioritisation.

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