Restorative Justice in Action: Insights from Restorative Justice Ōtautahi’s Pre-Sentencing Conferences

In an enlightening presentation, Jen Cato, Manager of Restorative Justice Ōtautahi, and Dr. Lesley Campbell, Director for Lebern and Associates consultancy, provided insights into the realm of restorative justice, specifically pre-sentencing restorative justice conferences facilitated by Restorative Justice Ōtautahi.

Campbell, with her impressive 20-year record of leadership across New Zealand’s public service domains and a Doctor of Philosophy in public sector management, brought to the fore a comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationship between public sector structures and the concept of restorative justice. On the other hand, Cato, through her role with Restorative Justice Ōtautahi, offered a ground-level perspective of the process and its implications.

At the heart of the presentation were the findings from the evaluation of these conferences. The methodology used for this evaluation was multifaceted, blending the program theory logic model, qualitative impact assessment protocol, and success case method. This holistic approach was essential to grasp both the tangible and intangible outcomes of the conferences.

One of the most poignant results highlighted was the psychosocial outcomes for participants. While the justice outcomes were more straightforward – such as alternative sentencing or community reparations – the psychosocial outcomes touched on deeper, often unaddressed issues. This includes the emotional and psychological healing and reconciliation for both victims and offenders, showing that the process goes beyond mere judicial remedies to offer holistic healing.

The presentation also delved into the key elements of Restorative Justice Ōtautahi’s services that significantly contribute to the desired outcomes. These elements, as Cato and Campbell elaborated, are pivotal in ensuring that the process remains effective, efficient, and centered on the clients’ needs. Given the agency’s aim to promote reconciliation and healing, these elements play a crucial role in realizing this mission.

But perhaps one of the most profound revelations of the presentation was the program theory framework, which bears implications for the transformation of New Zealand’s criminal justice system, especially as presented in He Waka Roimata, 2019. By demonstrating how restorative justice can be effectively woven into the fabric of the criminal justice system, Cato and Campbell highlighted the potential path for a justice system more attuned to reconciliation and healing than mere retribution.

In wrapping up their presentation, both presenters emphasized the significance of such evaluations. By understanding ‘what works,’ policymakers, stakeholders, and practitioners can refine and adapt their approaches, ensuring that restorative justice remains a relevant and effective tool in the evolving landscape of criminal justice.

For all attendees, this presentation by Jen Cato and Dr. Lesley Campbell was not just an academic exercise but a glimpse into the transformative power of restorative justice. Through their deep dive into Restorative Justice Ōtautahi’s practices, they underscored the immense potential that lies in blending traditional justice systems with restorative approaches – a blend that promises healing, reconciliation, and a more harmonious society.