New Zealand: peace above punishment, how restorative justice works for offenders and victims

Punishment has long been integral to Kiwis’ sense of justice. But those pursuing restorative remedies are finding more empowerment in healing than punitive action, writes Alex Loo.

The best restorative justice meetings are the ones where Rodney Holm does the least talking.

He is there to help the two parties understand each other and share their stories, not tell them how to feel.

Holm, from the Manawatū Restorative Justice Trust, has been involved with restorative justice for 10 years. In that time, he has dealt with offending from theft to fatal car crashes, and has seen mixed results from its use.

But he believes in the power and purpose of restorative justice.

Holm recalls a case where a young man who had been drinking caused a car crash that killed his female passenger, who he had only met hours earlier.

“*He found himself isolated, all his friends turned against him, no one would talk to him … how is such a person going to put it right? No one’s coming back to life.”*

Holm worked with the family of the young woman to find some way forward for the two parties. It turned out to be the man doing some work around their farm.

At first the young man was shocked by the proposition. He thought the woman’s family would want him to be “locked up”, Holm says.

It presented a positive result for both parties, and an ideal outcome for Holm. Unfortunately, this resolution never came about, and the young man was put in jail.

He (the judge) killed the whole thing, stone dead.

Holm says the judge wanted to impose a prison sentence as a deterrent against drink driving, whereas the victim’s family and police favoured of a community based sentence. This too could serve as a a reminder of the consequences of drink driving.

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