A researcher from The University of Western Australia believes that a restorative justice approach in prisons will play a key role in in prompting prisoners to behave in morally acceptable ways before and after their release.
In-prison restorative programming brings together victims of crime and unrelated offenders to share their stories of harm resulting from crime and address the challenges and difficulties they face.
With Australian prisons currently at record levels of overcrowding and increasing issues around incarceration, the restorative method offers an opportunity to draw back from the hugely expensive punitive approach.
It helps prisoners better understand the impact of their crime, take responsibility for their actions and become aware of the victims’ needs.
Dr Jane Anderson, an anthropologist from UWA’s School of Social Sciences, developed the restorative practice called the Second-generation Sycamore Tree Project.
She has voluntarily facilitated 20 programs in a regional prison in Western Australia over the past four years, holding sessions one day a week for eight weeks. The groups are made up of four to five victims of crime and 12 to14 unrelated offenders.
Participating crime victims are often parents of heavy users of methamphetamine and offenders are commonly those incarcerated for drug-related crimes.
The Sycamore Tree Project creates a space within prison to enable prisoners to seriously reflect on the consequences of their actions and repair their own connections with family.
Dr Anderson said that in-prison restorative justice programming is focused on producing positive structures in the lives of prisoners that will guide responsible living.
“While there is a price to be paid for wrong-doing, prison walls, razor wire and locked doors do not produce the type of change needed for returning prisoners to their families and communities,” Dr Anderson said.
“Real change comes from tapping into the goodness that is part of every human being and acquiring a moral perspective.
“In the Sycamore Tree Project, prisoners explore and practice being a moral person, necessary for repairing and building people and relationships.”
Dr Anderson hopes that restorative justice will be seriously considered by policy makers and communities.
The study is published in the International Journal of Restorative Justice.
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229/ (+61 4) 32 637 716