Restorative justice aims to develop understanding and empathy in offenders through explanation of crime impact by victims. It is promoted as an innovative strategy that reduces recidivism, enables victim redress and saves incarceration cost.
As a kidney doctor, I had no exposure to courts and corrections processes before a tragic incident in my personal life. I had certainly never heard of restorative justice.
Here I share my experience with a restorative justice pilot project, as well my opinions about making it viable corrections process. I have no professional restorative justice expertise.
On June 6 2016 my 47 year old former Vietnamese refugee multilingual general practitioner husband was struck whilst running by a drunk heroin addicted driver. Devastating brain injury ended his generous and productive life as it was. He remains here as a ghost, but lost as a husband and father. Keeping him safe from state care means intrusive home support and public parenting. His loss of testamentary capacity means state authorities interrogate our finances annually. Systems plague our lives.
The offender was sentenced to 3.5 years to serve a minimum of 2 without parole, with an inclusive license cancellation period of 3.5 years. For sentence mitigation, his polysubstance abuse, mental health problems and head injury were described in court. Consumption of 10 standard alcohol drinks a day for 20 years was almost certainly associated with acquired brain injury.
Moving on from what seemed a paltry sentence, I avidly sought outlets for constructive action
I asked questions about how health information could be used to rehabilitate damaged people and keep the community safe. I became passionate about medical driving fitness, victims of crime and road trauma advocacy.
Restorative justice was introduced to me by another road safety advocate. She made me aware of a victim led restorative justice pilot project for negligent and culpable driving conducted by a local university law research unit
This sounded like a good fit with my broad view that corrections process could entail more constructive interaction between health and justice systems
Written and verbal information was provided, but there was no formal participant information and consent form as mandated in medical research, nor any information about a research ethics governance body.
After some early meetings with law practitioner researchers, I was introduced to the facilitator. She was to interact with the offender and me separately then bring us together. Her background was social work with an interest in dispute resolution. She hadn't conducted any victim/offender conferences in our state criminal justice system.
For his safety and mine, I assumed there would be thorough offender assessment regarding cognition, mental health, personality and capacity for genuine remorse by a suitably qualified professional, as well as ongoing support for him. There was not.
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