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Editor. Genuine Remorse.

This short article outlines the personal story of a former offender now working with a community based restorative justice initiative.

It was the 138th conviction that got her.

 

Until then she had never even considered the victim.  

 

But the heroin addict and hardened criminal suddenly came face-to-face with a person hit by her crime. That revelation turned her into a law-abiding citizen.  

 

Jackie Katounas is a walking, talking advertisement for restorative justice.   

 

She is also making sure that the concept is used in the Hawkes Bay through a community-based initiative known as Hawkes Bay Restorative Justice Te Puna Wai Ora Inc. She also features in a training video being produced for the court-referred restorative justice project.   

 

Jackie works as a facilitator for the Hawkes Bay organisation's restorative justice project, as well as running a new initiative for the group.  

 

The Whakatikatika Prison Project is a Hawkes Bay innovation which has received support through the Crime Prevention Unit. It involves getting offenders already in the prison system interested in restorative justice. In the first 13 months of her two year contract, Jackie has had 82 referrals from prisoners wanting to make amends with their victims.   

 

"Generally these offenders are genuine in wanting to put things right with the victim. They've got nothing to gain once they are in prison. They are not going to get a lighter sentence. Sometimes they ask to put things right at the end of a prison sentence."  

 

It is also a risk for the offenders who, having convinced themselves of the importance of putting things right, often find the victim is either not willing to meet, not able to meet or is unable to be found. The crimes have ranged from  kidnapping to armed robbery to murder.  

 

But Jackie has managed to facilitate 15 conferences. For others, she has asked victims if they would be willing to accept a letter from an offender. This has gone ahead in about nine cases.  

 

"Sometimes when I talk to them about the harm of their offending it is the first time they have ever heard that. I know it sounds bizarre that they son't think about the harm they have caused people or the ripple effect. Some of them still try to justify what they did or dispute the facts, but some begin to see what their offending has done. I know they have no idea of the affect because I used to be just like that."

 

"I clocked up 138 convictions and spent 12 years in prison over a 25 year period. In all that time I was never aware I was hurting anyone. I never gave consideration or a thought to the victims," says Jackie.   

 

She went into her first maximum security unit at 12 years, and was in Mt Eden prison at 16.  

 

Jackie's enlightenment came when she received some stolen goods -- the owner of which she knew personally. "It was the first time I ever felt shameful. I phoned the victim and went and explained my involvement."

 

The encounter led her to source the rest of the stolen goods and return them to the victim.  

 

"It was a raw form of restorative justice, but I never offended from that day on. It was a powerful turning point because I began thinking of other people than myself. For 25 years I had wreaked havoc on the community, and then restorative justice changed my life."  

 

For Jackie the move away from a life of crime was tough. "I had to learn to speak to people without speaking about crime and drugs. I had to learn how to build rapport with people who weren't criminals."

 

Some time later she heard a speech by restorative justice advocate Jim Consedine. It helped her understand that  what she had been through was restorative justice. Jackie trained to be a facilitator, and now her work offers a unique perspective to prisoners.  

 

"I challenge them to make change in their life. They need to address the stuff in their past to have a bright future. I  can establish a real rapport with the prisoners."

 

Prison officers have been very supportive and have embraced the concept. If a prison officer believes a prisoner is  showing some remorse, they often make a referral to Jackie.   

 

Jackie has several positive stories from her work with prisoners. In one case a mother shook the hand of the man who had murdered her son and wished him well. "She now has the answers to questions that had haunted her since her son's death. She could now integrate all the details of her son's last few hours. She felt gratified and released. The offender, who had been plagued with deep remorse and self hatred, walked out of the meeting with his head held high."

 

In another case a recidivist offender who had never spent more than three months out of prison in a 30 year period was involved in a conference with a victim he had kidnapped. The experience resulted in him spending 10 months out of prison. As soon as he was put back behind bars he telephoned Jackie to assure her that he hadn't committed a 'crime' but had had a driving offence which automatically activated his prison term. Although the step was small, Jackie believes it was significant for a man with a 30-year history of offending.

 

"This man had never been at that stage before. He was concerned about being back in prison. His attitude to incarceration and offending was different and he really wanted to make a change."

 

 

 

Reprinted from Te Ara Whakatika: Newsletter of the court-referred restorative justice project

. September  2001. Issue 4.

 

 

 

March  2003

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