MEDIA RELEASE: CIJ launches new restorative justice service after successful pilot
A new restorative justice program that responds to crime committed by adults in Victoria has been launched by the Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) at RMIT University.
The Open Circle service will conduct restorative justice conferencing for a range of crimes in the adult jurisdiction, as well as other incidents of harm like workplace injuries and traffic collisions. Open Circle will also consult on restorative practice for organisations and conduct research.
Restorative justice practices involve those affected by a crime or other incident of harm coming together to address what has happened, its impact on people, and implications for the future.
While currently available for young offenders in Victoria, no equivalent ongoing programs exist in the adult jurisdiction – although the practice is firmly embedded in mainstream justice systems elsewhere, including the ACT and New Zealand.
The CIJ’s Associate Director Stan Winford said the service met an urgent need in Victoria and was part of an increasingly accepted recognition of the crucial role restorative justice plays in complementing traditional criminal justice processes.
“Our research and pilot programs in restorative justice consistently underline the value of, and demand for, services like this in Victoria,” Winford said. “We now hope the government will take a lead role in supporting more such programs across the state.”
The announcement follows a successful pilot restorative justice program run by CIJ, in which independent research interviews with participants indicated the program had met their needs in ways the formal justice system was not able to do.
Funded by the Victorian Legal Services Board and running from 2016 to 2018, the pilot program accepted 14 referrals for restorative justice for victims, offenders and others involved in motor vehicle collisions where someone had been killed or seriously injured.
The program, based on local and international research and existing services, supported victims (including family members of those who had died) and others affected, to have a safe, respectful, face-to-face dialogue with offenders or others involved, supported by a neutral facilitator. Eligible cases included where there had been a finding of guilt (either pre- or post- sentence) and in some circumstances where charges were not laid or matters did not proceed to trial.
Open Circle Manager, Nareeda Lewers, said a major theme from the pilot was how criminal trials and sentencing don’t always deliver everything that victims want or need in the aftermath of crime.
“People who participated in the pilot felt the process gave them a greater sense of justice,” she said.
“It demonstrated that access to restorative justice can provide significant benefits for participants.”
The project report, ‘It’s healing to hear another person’s story and also to tell your own story’, presenting key findings and detailed, de-identified interviews with participants about their experiences, was also launched today.
Recommendations include that the government support more restorative justice programs for crimes committed by adults in Victoria.
CIJ Director Rob Hulls said the pilot, which continued to receive referrals after finishing, and CIJ’s other work in this space demonstrated the high demand from individuals as well as organisations – including those who work closely with victims and offenders.
“Since beginning our restorative justice work, we have been asked by Worksafe Victoria, the TAC, RMIT and others, to develop models of restorative engagement that help people in the aftermath of life-changing events, including crime, workplace injury and motor vehicle collisions. This makes the CIJ well-positioned to provide restorative justice services in a range of contexts,” Hulls said.
The report and Open Circle will be launched October 24 by the Hon. Ben Carroll, Victorian Minster for Crime Prevention, Corrections, Youth Justice and Victim Support.
Testimony from pilot program participants (more on page 42 of report):
“I think it’s quite healing to hear another person’s story…to listen to another person’s story but also to tell your own story. And that’s in essence what happened. Like I feel as though I really had an opportunity to tell the story. But I also got the opportunity to hear someone else’s story that I wouldn’t have heard.”
“We got different answers. We found out the background of the other person and the events that led up to the day, and that put our minds at rest and answered some questions.”
“I now know something about a person who was previously just a faceless defendant deserving of punishment. Knowing what he looks like, how he talks and how he feels helps me.”
“…saying sorry will never bring [the deceased person] back, but you gave me an opportunity to speak and not make it out that I’m a cold-hearted person and I didn’t care, when I do care, and I really appreciate having this opportunity to do it.”
ABOUT THE CIJ: The CIJ is a research, education and advocacy organisation based at RMIT University. The CIJ promotes innovative and therapeutic initiatives that help make the justice system a positive intervention in people’s lives. Established in 2013 by former Attorney-General Rob Hulls, the CIJ has produced ground-breaking work in the areas of family violence, systemic reform and restorative justice.
Report authors Stan Winford and Nareeda Lewers and CIJ Director Rob Hulls are available for interview. Contact via 0439 704 077 or firstname.lastname@example.org