THIS PAGE IS AN OVERVIEW AND DAILY LOG OF A RESEARCH TRIP TO AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS IN APRIL/MAY 2007. THE TRIP HAS BEEN ENTIRELY FUNDED BY ROSEHILL COLLEGE (AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND) WITH THE GOAL OF FURTHERING UNDERSTANDING OF BEST PRACTICE IN RESTORATIVE PRACTICES WITHIN SCHOOL SETTINGS.
Finding Your Way
MONDAY 30 APRIL - ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
We talked as much about youth justice implications as much as schools – but the link between punitive control within schools and further offending is relatively well known so it fitted my brief well. Debbie is well accustomed to the notion that ‘the system’ sets a group of individuals to fail – then punishes them for it. By this I mean a person being reduced (sometimes through a single, reckless act, out of character) from being a contributing and integrated member of society to a drain upon society’s resources.
How? – Using Debbie’s example, a tax paying individual who assaults another may go to jail – he (she) can no longer pay taxes but must be maintained by the state at $50,000/year (NZ figures). The partner of this person will probably have to enter the welfare system to support the family – and when the ‘criminal’ exits the prison system, the stigma of that incarceration may prevent further employment. This can be how intergenerational unemployment begins and most people know the financial and social cost of that.
The real shame of this is that in Debbie’s estimation, 80% of inmates could have been better managed using non-custodial means. It may be said that many of the suspensions of school students could also be handled differently? Debbie sagely explained that we do not send people to jail it they have a broken arm, but the Western justice system is very quick to send people with mental illness to prison.
The Centre for Restorative Justice in Adelaide exists under a parent body, Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services of South Australia (http://www.oars.org.au/default.htm) – led strongly by Leigh Garrett, its CEO. The CRJ appears to be gaining significant traction in the South Australian judicial system despite the usual blocks and inertia posed by the historic regime. Perhaps most significant have been a couple of District Court trials which have been cautiously entrusted to a restorative process – as a pilot. In both situations, the recommendations advised by the participants of the conference were respected by the judge.
What is important for schools to understand is in both these trials, the conference had to consider the damage caused by loss of life ('Causing Death Through Dangerous Driving) but in neither situation did the victim’s families advise or wish incarceration. To me, this debunks (yet again) the myth that victims and their families want the severest penalties – we assume this fact. In both these cases the victim’s families could see that nothing could reasonably be gained by another person in prison – even the person who was responsible for their loved one’s death.
I ask this question:
- if showing restraint from employing the highest punishment is good enough for situations involving death, surely schools that are dealing with relatively minor issues such as thefts of Ipods and schoolyard scuffles can find robust yet just alternatives to stand-downs and suspensions?
Something else that struck me today.
It concerns an aspect of the restorative process that is clearly a powerful focus for many practitioners here in Adelaide and was explained well by Debbie. This concept is labelled ‘Expectation Clarity’ – and refers to the decision about what should happen if the offender (s) fail to meet the responsibilities that they have committed to. With Expectation Clarity, before a conference finishes, the facilitator gains from participants a clear picture of what everyone believes is fair and just should obligations be shirked. I know that notions of goodwill, trust and hope may lead some practitioners to side-stepping this part of the process – I know that on the basis of knowing all of the participants, in a conference, I sometimes spend too little time on this aspect.
I suppose that in a closed community like a school, there is always the perception that if the conference obligations are not met, it is only a few minutes work to round everyone up and work out a response. But, accountability is as much one of the fundamental elements of RJ as hope (and so on) – therefore, having emphasis on Expectation Accountability is likely something that I will spend more time considering.