Jesuit Social Services takes pride in delivering supports and services that recognise a person’s individual needs, experiences and story. We develop strong relationships and connections with the people and communities we work alongside to help facilitate positive change and create better outcomes.

We adopt this holistic, restorative approach across several pillars of our work, including criminal justice. What leads a person to commit an offence is often complex, so to disrupt a person’s trajectory into the justice system, we must better understand the drivers towards it.

Restorative practice principles and processes can be employed in a range of contexts but are most commonly applied in the criminal justice system, focusing on repairing the harm caused by an offence or wrongdoing, and the various ways people, relationships and communities are affected.

Restorative justice aims not only to address the offending behaviour but also to prevent any further harm or offending from occurring.

Our Youth Justice Group Conferencing program is an example of this – an evidence-based approach that:

  • gives all parties a voice by preparing people to listen and communicate effectively
  • prevents, manages, resolves or transforms conflict
  • understands, addresses, repairs or prevents harm
  • promotes wellbeing and pro-social behavior
  • harnesses cooperation for problem solving
  • promotes effective decision making
  • provides leadership and mentoring
  • strengthens connectedness and community.

Our process guides participants through a sequence of recounting what has happened and how people have been affected, and then, together, determining what positive steps they can take to improve the circumstances of everyone involved.

By prioritising the wellbeing of all parties impacted and creating an opportunity for young people to listen, learn and make amends, restorative practices such as group conferencing help to create a system focused on healing, rather than on punishment.

In residential settings, including youth detention, restorative practices can help build a system that embeds a relationship focus. In doing so, they can help create opportunities for learning life skills, including effective self-regulation and social skills that build, maintain and repair relationships.

Supporting young people in an ongoing way to develop these skills has the potential to shift reactive and unhelpful responses to behaviour, toward a relational approach that supports young people.

In both Victoria and the Northern Territory, Jesuit Social Services has been meeting with government and departmental representatives, Judges, lawyers, and community organisations to help educate and provide advice on the benefits of applying restorative practices within our justice systems, including information on appropriate referral pathways to our Youth Justice Group Conferencing programs.

With the recent announcements on raising the age of criminal responsibility, we also believe restorative practices could play a role for children aged
10-12 years of age who will be impacted by these legislative changes.

Restorative practices work. They play a crucial role in helping to disrupt trajectories towards the justice system, and in helping to teach and ensure children and young people have the skills to thrive.