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Examining the Restorative Model of practice in Youth Justice

This article critique aims to critically examine the Restorative Model of practice in Youth Justice settings. I will do this by discussing the film ‘Facing the Demons’ and the restorative model of justice featured in the film; critically evaluating three journal articles/book chapters addressing restorative youth justice; and by critically assessing the merits of a restorative justice model in youth justice against an adversarial model.

Section 1: ‘Facing the Demons’

The film is the true story of world wide first; a Family Group Conference (FGC) that bought together the victims of murdered teenager Michael Marslew face to face with his murderers. Eighteen-year-old Michael was murdered in 1994 at work in Sydney, Australia - the crime was a random act of violence when four young men entered Pizza Hut in hopes of gaining access to the day’s takings, it all turned fatefully wrong and Michael was shot in the head at point blank range with a sawn-off shotgun. The idea of the conference facilitated by Senior Sergeant Terry O’Connell was to bring the victims – Michael’s family and friends, and the offenders together four years after the murder. For the offenders to be held accountable through hearing of the pain and heat brake they have caused the victims. Through witnessing the facilitation of this emotionally charged conference the viewer is able to see both sides of the story, understand the impact this crime has had on everyone’s lives involved, and see how this conference can bring justice for those involved. The Key Players Involved in the Conference was:

Michael Marslew - the victim, 18-year-old employee at Pizza Hut who was murdered.

Senior Sergeant Terry O’Connell – the police officer in charge of facilitating the conference.

Ken Marslew – Michael’s father, whose way of dealing with the grief of his son’s murder is to set-up and run an anti-violence organisation in his son’s memory.

Joan Griffiths – Michael’s mother, who is consumed with grief of her son’s murder.

Karl Kramer – Offender, he was the organiser of the armed robbery that killed Michael.

Douglas Edwards - Offender, he was the driver of the getaway car.

Lynette Marslew – Ken’s new wife and right-hand woman.

Lisa, Caroline and Mikel – Michael’s co-workers, who were also working the fateful night at Pizza Hut.

Sara and Brendon – Michaels’ childhood friend’s, they both suffer greatly from the loss of Michael and are struggling moving on with their own lives.

Joanne Edwards – Douglas’ mother, she represents the family’s of the offenders.

Discussion of the Film

From my interpretation of the film, I believe the heroes and heroines in the conference are those who attended. The family and friends of Michael are all heroes and heroines for the courage and strength it would have taken to confront Michael’s murderers. Joanne who was a heroine as it would have taken great strength to face with the victims of her son’s crimes and apologise. In a sense, the offenders Karl and Douglas are also heroes as it would have taken courage for them to front up to the victims and to genuinely be remorseful and apologise. Senior Sergeant Terry O’Connell is a hero, in the fact that he facilitated the conference; he bought the two sides together against all odds.

The key challenges O’Connell faced in setting up the conference, was getting those who were directly involved or affected by the murder to agree to attend, as the victims where still in pain and the offenders were to be held accountable. Ken’s high profile in the media due to his very public crusade against violence “which creates problems for O’Connell as he tries to navigate the highly charged emotions surrounding this particular case” (Wachtel, 1999, p.2 ).

Ken and Joan have had contrasting reactions to their son’s death. Ken has displayed his grief very publicly through his campaign against violence whereas Joan has dealt with her grief privately, letting it eat away at her. Ken has taken ownership of Michael’s murder in the media and his mind, and Joan feels she has been ignored as the mother.

The conference helped Michael’s friends Sara and Brendon move on with their lives. When we were first introduced to Sara prior to the conference she spoke of how she had quit school, was unable to maintain relationships, and could not visit Michael’s mother as it was too hard for her because of Michael’s murder she had ultimately lost her best friend and her way in life. The conference helped Sara get closure around Michael’s death and when we saw her after the conference, she was much more confident and happy. Brendon spoke of losing his best friend and how it had affected his life not having Michael there, as with Sara the conference provided closure for Brendon.

Michael’s family and friends reacted differently to the offenders in the conference but all expressed their anger towards the offenders. Michael’s mother Joan showed very intense feelings of anger towards the offenders, even throwing a bag of dirt on the floor to emphasise to the offenders what she believed they had reduced Michael too. Michael’s father Ken showed anger towards the offenders in the conference, but after the conference the audience was shown Ken talking to the offender Karl in which seemed to be a calm manner, possibly starting the process of forgiveness. Michael’s co-workers were very angry they explained to the offenders how that night had affected the rest of their lives; one of the co-workers told the offenders that she hoped they were never happy, as they did not deserve it. Michael’s friends Sara and Brendon showed their anger towards the offenders but were able to get some closure from the conference that helped them move on in their own lives afterwards.

If I was a friend or parent of Michael I hope that I would have attend the conference with an open mind, I would have been willing to listen to the other victims and offenders and be willing to have my own say. I hope that I would have been able to find some closure and move forward in my life as Sara did and not return to such a negative state of grief and bitterness that Joan did.

The meaning behind the name of the film “Facing the Demons” is that to face your demons, you are confronting your fears or something that you have been trying hard to avoid. For the family and friends of Michael the offenders are the ‘demons’ the faceless evil which has caused them so much heart-break. The conference is their chance to face their demons and move forward with their lives.

Section 2: Critical evaluation of three articles/chapters that address restorative youth justice

Critically evaluate the arguments and discussions of the youth restorative justice model in three articles or chapters:

Maxwell and Morris’ (2006) article examines the current restorative justice model in New Zealand, where young people are supposed to be held accountable for their actions and their wellbeing is enhanced. They question whether or not the restorative model has been effective in producing these outcomes and they suggest that the Aotearoa youth justice system has achieved many but not all of its goals, and that there are still aspects for improvement e.g. young people not being part of the accountability process and young people and victims not being involved in the decision making part of the FGC process. Following on from this they have identified that the model “has been less than successful in achieving the goals of enhancing the wellbeing of the young people who enter the system and ensuring that they have the skills to be effectively reintegrated into society as people with a potential to contribute to society as well as to benefit from the rewards of participation (p.257)”.

Doolan’s (2009) article criticizes the historical model of youth justice which was based on a welfare model that tended to assume that the young person’s needs were best met by the state. This model had a number of deficits: it was seen to isolate the young person from “the impact of their offending behaviour on victims and their own families”, “inhibited the acceptance of personal responsibility that would be demonstrated by the acknowledgement of the offending and seeking to put matters right” (p.307) and that it produced negative outcomes “for young people and the community as whole“(p.317). Recognition of these deficits led to a major change in the youth justice model with the introduction of the restorative model in 1989. Designed to reduce the number of incidences of youth offending as well as reoffending and to promote favourable outcomes and life opportunities for young people. Doolan discusses the impact of this model in relation to evidence from research that suggests that “positive outcomes result from family and community empowerment, putting right the wrong that has been done, and providing appropriate services that help young people reintegrate with mainstream society (Maxwell et al., 2004, cited in Doolan, 2009, p.317). Doolan’s article in summary discusses the deficits of the welfare model and the strengths of the restorative model of youth justice in New Zealand.

Bradley, Tauri and Walter’s (2006) chapter examines youth justice in New Zealand through two conflicting political perspectives; “On the one hand, a loose conservative coalition of leading opposition politicians and citizen-based lobby groups paint a disturbing picture of ‘youth crime out of control’ and the ‘youth justice system as a failure.’ On the other hand, in stark contrast, a liberal coalition including youth court practitioners, juvenile justice researchers and policy analysts paint a more optimistic picture” (p.79). They then go on to discuss how introduction of the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act (CYPF) Act (1989) was in response to the deficits of the 1974 Act that they identified to have three major criticisms. Being police reluctance to utilise the diversion pathways in the Act; the failure to involve offenders and victims in the process; and the dissatisfaction with the mono-cultural nature of the 1974 Act (p.83). Following this discussion the chapter in turn explores the principles and pathways of the 1984 Act. The chapter concludes with the authors suggesting that in their view the New Zealand restorative justice model’s ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ have been exaggerated and not adequately demonstrated by either side of the politicised debate…in our view youth justice initiatives in New Zealand must facilitate the cultural empowerment of Maori and other ethnic minorities…before success can be claimed. To that extent, the New Zealand model has some way to go (p.93).

Identify and discuss common and contrasting themes between the three articles/chapters.

The three articles had many common themes; they all discussed the previous models of youth justice and their deficits. They explored the creation of and the changes that the CYPF Act (1989) bought to the youth justice system with the introduction of the FGC. They discussed New Zealand’s innovation in creating the FGC process, how the system in was the first example of a restorative process in the world. All three articles explored how the previous models and the restorative model works with Maori and other ethnic minorities and how there is room for improvement. Both Maxwell and Morris’ (2006) and Bradley (2006) et al articles discussed the deficits of the restorative justice model and believe that although the victim is invited to be part of the restorative process they are often not part of the decision making process.

Bradley et al (2006) had the most contrasting themes from the other articles as they focused very much on the political nature of the youth justice. Contrastingly to the Maxwell and Bradley articles the Doolan (2009) article paints the restorative model in a very positive light and did not address the deficits of the model but celebrated its successes. The three articles also described the previous models of youth justice differently; Maxwell and Morris describing it as a diversion model, Bradley et al describing it as an adversarial model, and the Doolan article describing it as paternalistic welfare model.

All three articles discuss the restorative model through different lenses that present common and contrasting themes based off the viewpoint of the authors and the audiences they are addressing.

What aspects in each article or chapter are you able to identify in ‘Facing the Demons’?

In ‘Facing the Demons’ we are able to see how the FGC process discussed in the three articles can be restorative by letting everyone who was affected by the murder of Michael address the conference. This process was empowering for those who attended the conference by holding those accountable by those who were most affected by the crime. It was also empowering for the victims as they were able to address the offenders, and the majority of them were seen to be able to move forward in their own lives because of the FGC. The Maxwell and Morris and Bradley et al articles examine how the process can be ineffective for offenders when they do not wish to be part of the process, like the two offenders in the film who did not attend. Their articles also address how the process can be ineffective or even harmful for the victims, for example Michael’s mother Joan. Overall, the articles did mostly discussed the youth justice system and the focus of the FGC in that system is different from that of the film but the essential elements of accountability and empowerment of the offenders and victims were visible in the articles and in the film.

Section 3: Critically assess the merits of a restorative justice model in youth justice against an adversarial model

Identify and describe the essential elements of the restorative justice and adversarial models

The essential elements of the restorative justice model are that it aims to treat the offender. The focus is on the offender and changing their future behaviour. The victim’s needs and rights are central in the restorative justice process, whereby the offender has to take responsibility for the offence and the impact it has cause on the victims. The restorative model believes that crime violates people and relationships and breaks down social connectedness. Justice encourages dialogue and mutual agreement, gives victims and offenders central roles, and is judged by the extent to which responsibilities are assumed, needs are met, and healing of individuals and relationships. Restorative justice aims to identify the needs and obligations so that things can be made right (Zehr, 1990 and 1994).

The essential elements of the adversarial model are that: it focuses on the offence and its aim is to punish the offence. It defines crime as a violation of society’s rules whereby the state is viewed as the victim not the person who the crime was committed against; it believes that crime violates the State and its laws. The state and offender are the primary parties in the model with the victims’ needs and rights ignored. Justice focuses on establishing guilt and justice is sought through a conflict of adversaries in which offender is pitted against state. In summary, one side wins and the other loses (Zehr, 1990 and 1994).

Critically assess the merits of each model for youth justice settings

The merits of the restorative youth justice model in New Zealand are the four perspectives that inform the model to achieve positive outcomes for the young persons, the victim, their families, and the community as a whole. They are:

The justice and accountability perspective - holds the young person accountable for their actions through the FGC process that invites the young person’s family, the victims, and members of the community to be involved.

The young-person-centred perspective – requires social work practitioners to focus the attention on issues of due process as well as the young persons’ rights to special provisions. To focus on the young person, to advocate for and support the young person to ensure they have access to resources that will empower them and change their offending behaviour.

The family-led and culturally responsive perspective - asks the family to work together with professionals to hold the young person accountable for their offending and to assist with empowering the young person to make positive changes in their lives. It is culturally responsive as it respects the family’s cultural identity and works within the appropriate cultural communities.

The strengths-based and evidence perspective –focuses on factors identified in the research literature as contributing to positive outcomes, such as: closing down early offending promptly; strengthening relationships within family and school settings; pursuing strategies that avoid enmeshing young people in the criminal justice system; having positive family group conference experiences; and ensuring service needs of the young people are met” (Doolan, 2007).

The merits for the adversarial model for youth justice are that:

There is an adherence to a fixed procedure to ensure the equal treatment of all young offenders (Pickford, 2006)

For fairness/consistency the young offender is sentenced in proportion to the seriousness of their offence (Pickford, 2006)

Recognises the harm a victim has suffered from the crime and the young offender must therefore be punished

Reaffirms standards specifically to persuade offenders not to reoffend and others to not offend (Duff, 2003, cited in Rouche, 2006)

Describe the potential for an integrative restorative and retributive model

There are arguments for and against the integration of the restorative and retributive model of youth justice. As with the Bradley et al (2009) article which discusses the contrasting political perspectives around youth crime - one that focuses on retributive justice and the other that focuses on the restorative model, there is conflicting and contrasting ideas around the models in the literature that debate the potentially difficult if not impossible task of combining the two models. Pickford (2006) cites Muncie and Hughes (2002) when discussing the difficulty in potentially integrating the restorative and retributive models in a youth justice setting:

‘The history of youth justice is a history of conflict, contradictions, ambiguity and compromise. Conflict is inevitable in a system that has traditionally pursued the twin goals of welfare and justice … As a result it continually seeks the compromise between youth as a special deserving case and youth as fully responsible for their own actions.’

Where as Duff (2003) as cited in Rouche, 2006 argues that ‘restoration is not only compatible with retribution: it requires retribution’, ‘In other words, restoration is not an alternative to punishment, but alternative form of punishment’. The merging of the two model’s would involve a great deal of social and political debate, and the answer as to whether they could be merged together is not straight-forward or a simple process.

Conclusion

This article critique has critically examined the Restorative Model of practice in Youth Justice settings. By discussing the film ‘Facing the Demons’ and the restorative model of justice featured in the film; critically evaluating three journal articles/book chapters addressing restorative youth justice; and by critically assessing the merits of a restorative justice model in youth justice against an adversarial model.

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