In the first blog reflecting on the observations of our #JusticeSolutions tour of New Zealand, Jesuit Social Services’ General Manager – Justice Programs DANIEL CLEMENTS writes that strong political leadership has resulted in the embrace of restorative justice principles and international best practice in detention facilities.

Jesuit Social Services’ Daniel Clements and Catherine Neville at Victoria University of Wellington.

The importance of a “culture of relational learning and peaceful encounter” is a critical component and prerequisite of restorative organisations.

That was a key message from our first meeting on our #JusticeSolutions tour of Aotearoa with Professor Chris Marshall and Dr Tom Noakes-Duncan from Victoria University.

They also highlighted the importance of the “human interaction and human need” at the heart of restorative work and the risks associated with a programmatic response where at times there can be a tendency for programs to be “stripped down”.

Victoria University in Wellington was our first stop on our 10 day visit to New Zealand to learn about innovative approaches to dealing with adults and young people who have contact with the criminal justice system.

Key to the strengths of the restorative justice approach in New Zealand has been the importance of the Maori voice and alignment with Maori concepts of “land, ancestors, community, morality and justice”.

Both Chris and Tom spoke about shifts occurring now in in New Zealand enhanced by the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and work that has been happening over a number of years re-thinking the principles of practice and service delivery models that have their origins in the Child and Family Act originally drafted 30 years ago.

Tom highlighted the work that was happening in Youth Justice and specifically a review of the detention facilities and a shift to small home-like facilities across New Zealand.

Increasingly youth justice facilities in New Zealand are “looking to examples of schools that have adopted a restorative framework and culture”: the use of circle time and conferencing designed to address conflict and repair relationships.

In Youth Justice Centres, management looks to provide “champion status” to staff who embrace and apply restorative principles in their work with young people.

Increasingly, there’s a recognition that the Youth Justice Centres need to be more flexible in their approach and that rigid ‘programatic’ structures can “shatter the cohesiveness of relationships” within a custodial setting, they said.

The meeting highlighted the opportunity for more restorative practice work to be done in with adults, where 95 per cent currently takes place pre-sentence.

He highlighted this as an area for further work, including the need to build the capacity of organisations and institutions to adopt and apply restorative principles to their work –in prisons for “staff to re-think their roles”. Central to this work is a clear vision and tools to assist achieve the ‘vision’.

As he put it, there’s a real way forward offered to organisations and institutions using simple but effective approaches like Circle time, underpinned by the importance of ‘the 4 Rs’:  Relationships, Respect, Responsibility and Repair.

As part of their work they offer online learning such as a free course at Victoria University introducing participants to the theory and practice of restorative justice.