FAQs

Answers to some common questions about our restorative justice processes.

Who can take part in an Open Circle restorative justice conference?

Open Circle makes restorative justice processes available for victims, people who have been harmed, other people affected by a crime or other harm, offenders, people responsible for causing harm, and other relevant community members (for example respected elders or community leaders). Support people including family members, friends, or professionals (such as case workers or counsellors of the people taking part) can also be involved.

Open Circle processes allow a victim or person harmed to meet with the offender or the person responsible. However, other scenarios are also possible, depending on what people affected want. For example, a victim or person harmed can be supported to meet with members of their own family. Different people affected by a crime or other harm can be brought together in circumstances where none of them is a victim or offender.

How long does the process take?

Each process is different. Some people have multiple meetings with program staff before they are ready to interact with the other participants in a conference. Other people need just one meeting. Each person involved needs to meet at least once with program staff before a conference can take place.

Generally our processes take at least three months from referral to conference. However, some take far longer.  It is important that the process is not rushed, so that everyone can get the most out of it, and the conference goes as well as possible.

Where does the conference take place?

Restorative justice conferences can be held at Open Circle’s premises, in Carlton, Melbourne. If participants live in rural or regional Victoria and travelling to Melbourne is not convenient we will try to find an alternative location for the conference that suits the people taking part.

If there is a conference involving an offender who is in custody, it may be possible for a restorative justice conference to be held at the prison where they are serving their sentence.

Why do people affected by crime or other harm want to take part?

  • To speak with and listen to other people who have been impacted
  • To seek answers
  • To work with others to prevent the harm happening again in the future

Why do victims/people harmed want to take part?

  • To tell their story in their own way to the person responsible for the harm, or to other significant people
  • To have the chance to ask questions of the person responsible for the harm
  • To find out more about the person responsible for the harm
  • To work with others to prevent the harm happening again in the future

Why do offenders/people responsible for causing harm want to take part?

  • To hear from the person harmed and understand the impact on them
  • To acknowledge responsibility
  • Some people want to offer an apology
  • To work with others to prevent the harm happening again in the future

Is restorative justice conferencing the same as mediation?

Restorative justice conferencing and mediation have some similarities. However, mediation usually happens when people are in conflict and it involves negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. In contrast, restorative justice conferencing responds to incidents of harm. People are not necessarily in dispute – someone has been harmed and the process is about responding to the harm. Instead of helping people to negotiate, restorative justice conferencing encourages people to share their stories and listen to others.

There are criminal proceedings taking place. Can I take part in a restorative justice process?

A restorative justice process can be held at the following points in a criminal justice process:

  • After a discontinuance
  • After a plea of guilty but before sentencing (pre-sentence)
  • After the offender has been sentenced (if the offender gets a custodial sentence, a conference can take place in prison, subject to prison permission)
  • After the offender has finished their sentence.

A conferencing process cannot be held while the facts are still in dispute. That means that if a plea negotiation or a criminal trial is underway, a conferencing process cannot proceed at that time.

If a conferencing processes goes ahead at a pre-sentence stage, a court might take this into account when sentencing the offender.

Will a victim or person harmed be re-traumatised by meeting the offender or person responsible for the harm?

Open Circle’s processes are voluntary, so there is no obligation on victims or others harmed to take part. People can choose to take part if they feel that the process will be helpful for them. Open Circle’s experienced staff spend time with people to help them decide if the process is right for them, and what might help it to go as well as possible. People can change their minds about participating at any time in the lead up to a conference, and can withdraw from the process at any time.

Open Circle staff spend time with all participants in the lead up to a conference. They will only allow a conference to go ahead if they are satisfied that the process will be beneficial and unlikely to cause further harm.

Victims or people harmed can invite a family member, friend or professional support such as a counsellor or social worker to support them at the conference.

Does the victim or person harmed have to forgive the offender or person responsible for the harm?

No. People have different reasons for wanting to take part in restorative justice processes. Forgiveness does not have to be part of the process. However, some people do want to offer forgiveness, and if so, they will be supported to express this.

Does the offender or person responsible for the harm have to apologise?

No. Not all conference processes involve an apology. No one is required to apologise. However, some people do want to offer an apology, and if so, they will be supported to do so.

Is a restorative justice conference an opportunity for the victim or person harmed to berate and abuse the offender or person responsible for the harm?

Open Circle’s processes respond to people’s individual experiences of harm and create space for people to express how they feel. People who want to take part in a conferencing process might be experiencing strong emotion, including anger, and this is perfectly understandable. Open Circle staff can help participants work towards being able to engage with others in a respectful and constructive way.

A conference will only go ahead if everyone involved is ready and willing to both speak and listen to others, in ways that are consistent with Open Circle principles.

Is a restorative justice conference a way for the offender or person responsible for the harm to avoid punishment?

The restorative justice processes offered by Open Circle do not replace criminal justice processes. This means that if an accused person is charged and prosecuted, the criminal proceedings will take their ordinary course whether or not an Open Circle process also takes place.

Some restorative justice programs are ‘diversionary’. This means that offenders take part in them instead of a criminal justice process, and if they take part in them, they avoid receiving a criminal conviction. However, this is not the case with Open Circle’s processes.

If an Open Circle restorative justice process takes place at a pre-sentence stage, a court may take this into account when sentencing an offender, along with other considerations. Whether an offender’s participation in an Open Circle process makes a difference to the sentence the offender would otherwise have received, and if so, how much difference this makes, is up to the court.

Open Circle’s restorative justice processes can provide opportunities for offenders or people who have caused harm to take responsibility on a personal level. However, taking part in Open Circle’s restorative processes is not intended to be a form of punishment, and is not part of a sentence that a court could impose.