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Developing Holistic Approaches in Singapore.

Joseph Ozawa is the Senior Director of the Family and Juvenile Justice Centre (FJJC) of the Subordinate Courts of Singapore. He is active in FJJC’s development of restorative and holistic practices. In this article, he describes three programs now in use in Singapore and relates how the format is important in the Asian context.

The Family and Juvenile Justice Centre (FJJC) of the Subordinate Courts of Singapore is currently involved in the development of restorative justice.  Believing that problems brought before the court are issues of complex human interactions, dysfunctions and conflicts as well as legal problems, FJJC has developed an approach, which is at once holistic, integrative and transformative. Developments include family conferencing, Project SAVE, and the Family Justice Team.

Held in the Juvenile Court, family conferences (FCs) bring offenders together with relevant parties to discuss rehabilitative issues. Participants in a FC may include members of the nuclear and extended family, school officials, mental health professionals, government officers, institutional homes officers, and sometimes victims, etc. Formalized under the Children and Young Persons Act, the FCs have legal authority to require compensation for damages of crime, mandate post-order rehabilitative counselling, issue a "formal caution," and make recommendations for appropriate dispositional orders to the Magistrate or Judge in charge of the case.

During the FC, participants discuss issues such as

  • the offender's remorse 
  • shame brought to the family (an especially, though not exclusive, Asian issue)
  • the relationship between the offender and parents
  • the appropriate placement of the offender so as to maximize restorative potential

Since the FCs are held in court, the offender and family are brought into open court for the dispositional order immediately following the meeting.  Thus, the gravity, proximity to court, and official / legal nature of the proceedings causes maximum cooperation; in Asia, the issue of authority is central in a society with a "Confucian" base.

Project SAVE is part of FJJC's holistic treatment of families.  When a victim of domestic violence brings an application for a protection order before the courts, a determination is made regarding the extent to which the alleged abuser is involved in drugs or alcohol.  If, indeed, the perpetrator is suspected to be addicted to substances, especially alcohol, then he is sent to the Community Addiction Management Programme (CAMP) and mandated to attend.  In CAMP, the issues of violence and addiction are addressed whilst the courts address the issues of protection orders.  Not only is the victim protected, but the long-term rehabilitation and restoration of the offender is also addressed.

Some call the Family Justice Team (FJT) the "one stop-shop" (or "7-11") model of restorative justice.  In essence, a family is treated as a holistic entity, and criminogenic roots are explored and rehabilitation addressed.  Some also call this "one judge:  one family" or "unified family court" model.  In essence, rather than make multiple appearances before different counsellors or judges, FJT conferences are held. These are designed to address "all" family issues.  The "one" judge and court team of counsellors / social workers / psychologists involved then addresses many of these problems together.  For example, in one family, there may be issues involving divorce proceedings, custody and access disputes, family violence (leading up to the divorce), maintenance issues (relevant to the family quarrels), and juveniles who may be "beyond-parental-control" (BPC) as a result of the instability.  In this case, the FJT may pull together the whole and extended family and other relevant parties (e.g. school officials) in one meeting to negotiate, mediate, counsel and hopefully resolve multiple issues.  It is a search for settlement, agreement, and ultimately, for holistic restoration and peace."



Joseph Ozawa

February 2003

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