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Does restorative justice work? An evaluation of the restorative justice programmes of Phoenix Zululand

Mar 11, 2015

from the chapter by Geoff Harris:

This chapter provides a case study of a bottom-up restorative justice intervention aimed at encouraging prisoners to take responsibility for their behaviour and at transforming relationships between prisoners and their families.  From focus groups and interviews with ex-prisoners and their families, the study found that forgiveness and reconciliation was frequently achieved, a finding which has important implications for the extremely high levels of recidivism in South Africa.

...Reading the words of the ex-prisoners in the interview transcripts, however, does not support a limited view of the impact of PZ programmes. They are very clear in suggesting a strong link between the principles espoused in Starting With Us (e.g., taking responsibility for your actions, dealing with your conflicts non-violently) and their willingness to change. This is in addition to building of self worth and inter-personal skills. Ex-prisoners consistently attributed the motivation to change, as well as the ability, to Starting With Us. There is no obvious reason why their views should not be taken as very largely correct.

The opinions of the ex-prisoners’ families provide an important corroboration of the prisoners’ opinions from the other side of the wall. They frequently reported positive changes in attitude and behaviour, and they regarded the opportunity to participate in Family Conferences with their lost sheep as bordering on the miraculous.

That said, ex-prisoners face a very difficult social and economic environment when released. Many of the ex-prisoners still have issues with their families – after all, forgiveness and reconciliation is a process rather than an event – and their communities . However, as noted, the apologies during Family Conferences were frequently two way, and both the family and the ex-prisoner have reasons to work at building a new life. This is hugely difficult. They live in an extremely violent country and the rural areas of South Africa in particular face deep poverty. Most households only cope as a result of social grants. Clearly, the temptations to engage in crime as a way of accumulating assets and in violence as a response to conflict are very strong. The stigma of having a prison record is considerable and strongly limits the opportunities to find employment in an already extremely difficult economic environment... 

Read the whole chapter.

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