making the world a better place

I haven’t written much about the restorative justice project recently. We’re still doing research and preparation work, which is, to be honest, incredibly depressing much of the time! i spent a very depressing day last week researching rates of recidivism, and the connection between the de-institutionalisation of mental health services in the Kennett government era and the increase of people with mental health issues in the prison system. the issues just get bigger and bigger.

I was listening to the radio while doing the research… People from melbourne would be aware of a much-publicised, terrible case of a young woman who was sexually assaulted by a group of young men last year. They videotaped the assault and sold the dvd to their schoolmates [details of the assault are even more horrific than that description hints]. Sentencing for the crime was handed down to some of those charged last week – they involved strict youth supervision orders, including some really tough re-education programs and community service. none of them were given custodial sentences.

There was an outraged response to the sentencing by talkback radio announcers and newspaper columnists. Noel McNamara, who describes himself as an advocate for victims of crime gave a quote to the media: “Once again the legal system has let down this young girl and her family and the rest of society.” Letters to the editor were vitriolic, full of outrage on behalf of the family. There was a united opinion that the young men should be sent to prison – preferably an adult prison – for very long periods of time.

It’s interesting that when Jon Faine from ABC radio actually asked the young woman’s father, Alan, what they thought of the sentencing, he said that this was the sentence they had been after. They wanted the boys to have a chance to come out of this better people. When he was asked why he wasn’t vengeful, he said “when you’re actually in it, you realise that there’s only one way to go. it’s about healing and trying to make the world a better place. “


  1. This idea of restorative justice is a huge one. I’ve not had a lot of “coal face” contact with the courts & etc, save for two years ago when I stood as a character witness for a colleague who was convicted of downloading child internet porn. The merits of the conviction were not on dispute but what astounded me was the sentence which amounted to incarceration for 3 months with no counseling, no effort to engage the person in some sort of restorative program; simply put him away, put him on the sex offenders watch list & release him with the threat of more punitive incarceration as the only effort to deter him. I was watching the magistrate as he pronounced sentence & I could almost sense his frustration at the lack of options available to him in sentencing.
    I have no real idea whether or not my friend is reformed; he tells me that he is but I am no judge. If he is truly reformed, he cannot re-connect with his old life, (a very talented musician who play a lot of youth & church gigs with me), & that is a tragedy for him & for the people who enjoyed his playing. If he is not reformed, restored &/or truly repentant, then I guess the on going sentence outside of the prison is more than appropriate; my dilemma is, how do you know, how do you decide?

  2. Cheryl

    it’s a stunning quote isn’t it, Pip. in fact i paid out $50 to the ABC to get a copy of the interview, because i didn’t want to forget it…

    Mick, i think the thing is that we aren’t the ones to decide. at the moment the media – and the general population – tend to be judge and jury on everything, but we actually can’t know. look at the whole Ben Cousins situation. everyone has an opinion the instant something new is found out, but we do not know anywhere near enough. we have no right to have an opinion.
    justice of any kind is very, very layered. it is a tragedy for your friend to not be able to play, it would be far more of a tragedy to put him in a situation that he found out he couldn’t handle.

  3. I agree Cheryl; knowing the way forward is a difficult prospect. My little story & I would guess countless others like it highlight just how difficult a concept restorative justice is. I’m curious to know how you define it?
    Mercy is a powerful force. I guess that’s what overwhelms me each & every Easter as I meditate on the cross. It’s why I can’t think of Jesus in the crib without seeing the cross. The whole mercy, grace & redemption scene is as gripping & powerful as it ever has been when you spend some time at the foot of the cross. The mercy & compassion displayed by the father in your story is both compelling & confronting.
    Probably one of the most unforgettable moments in my life was when the son of my good mate Eddie Pye was murdered. As I hugged my friend & we wept the first words that he spoke were “the only thing that I have to cling onto is that God is somehow going to use this for the Kingdom.” I understood neither the meaning or the intent of what he said, but I clearly understood the principle of mercy at work in the moment.
    As always you’ve given me lots to think about & as usual I have don’t some of it out loud here

  4. Cheryl

    Mick, if you look into the restorative justice section in the categories listed below there should be some posts on how i understand restorative justice, and links to other information as well.

  5. Wow! So much grace in the face of that situation is amazing. I can’t honestly say I would do the same, but I hope I would. Thanks for sharing the story, very moving.

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