Restorative justice especially effective

Criminals in North Otago appear to be seeing the error of their ways, judging from the success of the restorative justice process in the district.

Speaking to the Waitaki District Council this week, the Waitaki Safer Community Trust's restorative justice co-ordinator and Waitaki turnaround facilitator, Derek Beveridge, said the restorative justice programme in North Otago had dealt with 129 matters covering ''the whole spectrum'' of crimes over the past year.

''Everything from minor theft to serious assault,'' he said.

Mr Beveridge said that nationally, offenders who had engaged in restorative action were 20% less likely to reoffend, but he was ''confident'' that in North Otago, offenders were even less likely to reoffend.

He said the restorative justice process, which occurred after an offender had pleaded guilty and a sentencing judge had decided it was an appropriate course of action, brought together offender and victim in a formal setting ''to set things right''.

''The processes we can put in place seem to have a long-term effect.

''It is also a good opportunity for a victim to have a say in what should or should not happen to an offender.''

Waitaki Safer Community Trust chairwoman Elizabeth McCone said that judging by a Ministry of Justice survey carried out last year and the trust's own follow-up inquiries with offenders, she estimated that at least 80% of people who had gone through the process in Waitaki had not reoffended.

Mrs McCone said the success rate was well above the national average.

''Our emphasis is on the victim, and turning the criminals around.''

Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton said the 30 volunteers who worked on the scheme in North Otago should be applauded.

''We count this as one of the most important groups of volunteers in our community.''

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz