Northland crime victims are increasingly sitting down face-to-face with offenders - with cases of restorative justice doubling since a law change last year.
More than twice as many restorative justice referrals were made in Northland courts in the first three months of this year than over the same period last year.
Changes to the Sentencing Act last December mean a court must adjourn certain cases involving victims to find out whether restorative justice is appropriate. The restorative justice process involves the victim and the offender coming face-to-face at a conference, supervised by the Ministry of Justice. The conference allows the victim to express how the offending affected them, and those present to acknowledge the harm caused.
Ministry of Justice figures show there were 76 restorative justice referrals in Northland courts between January 1 and March 31 in 2015. Over the same period the previous year there were 32. In the first three months of this year 22 conferences resulted from the referrals, compared to six the previous year. Tania Siteine of the Ngati Hine Health Trust said she had seen a definite increase in the number of restorative justice referrals. She said the provider for the Dargaville, Whangarei and Kaikohe areas, was coping with the influx and had increased from one to two staff.
Ms Siteine said in some cases the trust had needed to return to the court to ask for extensions. In other cases staff had been able to see that restorative justice was not the best course of action. Cases which would not go to restorative justice included sexual offending and family violence incidents where the victim was afraid of the offender.
The trust was also careful with cases involving children, said Ms Siteine.
She thought the change to the Sentencing Act requiring certain cases to be referred to restorative justice was a good one. Restorative justice allowed offenders to make amends for the harm they had done and victims to find out why the offence had happened to them.
For example, it was helpful for a victim to know a burglary had been an opportune event and they had not been singled out.