Restorative approaches to criminal justice : an exploratory study in KwaZulu-Natal.
Restorative justice, a social movement seeking to introduce reform in the operation of the traditional criminal justice system, has seen a marked proliferation of its initiatives over the last decade in countries like Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Restorative processes are those in which offenders, victims and/or others affected by a crime participate often with the help of a facilitator, in the resolution of matters arising from that crime. Prevailing literature indicates that the intellectual heritage of restorative justice is diverse and rooted in a myriad of theories, beliefs, values and customs. Restorative justice is also used to describe a bewildering range of practices and programmes. While restorative justice draws on existing traditional, indigenous and religious beliefs in dealing with disputes, effective restorative justice practices depend on a well functioning and credible criminal justice system. The current preoccupation with restorative justice by advocates for criminal justice reform is closely related to low levels of access to justice on the part of many South Africans. The extraordinarily high rates of violent crimes in South Africa clearly suggest that restorative justice cannot replace current penal law and procedure. Effective and innovative integration of restorative processes into the formal criminal justice system is just one of the many challenges facing criminal justice systems worldwide. The question that arises is whether restorative processes can and should inform a greater proportion of justice system activity? In answer to this question the present study critically explores the development of the restorative justice paradigm in South Africa both within the criminal justice system, as well as initiatives taking place outside it Since 1994 there have been numerous policies that have sought to incorporate restorative principles. Notwithstanding its growing popularity, its integration into the national criminal justice agenda for reform is fraught with difficulties, both theoretical and practical. The study highlights the difficulties associated with applying restorative approaches in cases of intimate violence against women and children and proposes that the primary focus should be on victim safety and not merely offence seriousness and willingness of the offender or victim to participate. dearly the agenda for implementation and strengthening of restorative practices in the criminal justice system has to go hand in hand with the provision of victim services and support. An integrated, multi-sectoral approach involving collaboration with the relevant government departments is suggested, so that clear strategies may be developed in order that responses may be facilitated from the moment a crime occurs until the final restorative elements have been completed. The study concludes by making recommendations in respect of implementation, policy and law reform, practice guidelines and standards, skills development and training, and curriculum development in the field of restorative justice.