An analysis of restorative justice and intimate partner violence policy and practice: professionals' perspectives and perceptions
This qualitative research project endeavoured to open up the conversation around RJ and IPV and highlight gaps in policy in order to give voice to an area in the RJ process that has, up to this point, been virtually silent. There were two overarching aims. The first was to identify the underlying practice assumptions and values evident in the New Zealand Ministry of Justice (MOJ) restorative justice (RJ) standards for family violence (FV) cases (MOJ, 2013). These would be viewed from the perspective of working with intimate partner violence (IPV) cases in particular. The intention was to compare these assumptions and values with RJ and IPV international theory and New Zealand practice. The second aim was to clarify the processes and criteria used to determine/assess IPV offender suitability and readiness for RJ, ascertain the ways in which these practices were theoretically justified, and to compare the implementation of practice to the explicit and implicit guidelines present in New Zealand policy. To these ends, a collection of 30 criminal justice professionals (judges, lawyers, police officers) and restorative justice facilitators involved in the referral and assessment process of IPV offenders participated in interviews in person, over the phone, or via Skype, which were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and then subject to analysis in order to create a conceptual framework. The analysis identified 18 main themes that were grouped into four main categories: RJ IPV conceptualization, effective RJ IPV assessor qualities, IPV offender assessment for RJ suitability/readiness, and RJ IPV practice issues. These results were compared with policy and with the international literature in order to identify consistencies and inconsistencies and to discover where gaps in policy may become clarified. Results showed that a great deal of the policy was supported by the international literature, however there were several gaps and inconsistencies. Several issues were of interest – namely the lack of clarity in the framework of RJ for IPV (i.e. where does it sit in relation to the traditional criminal justice system, intervention vs. pathway vs. overarching framework), the timing of RJ assessment in terms of treatment and interventions, siloing of agencies, and funding/resourcing issues. A final question that arose for me during analysis was regarding the purpose and value of assessment in these cases. Rather than making a decision regarding suitability in order to exclude an IPV case from the RJ process, if the process was truly restorative, perhaps the outcome of an assessment of IPV offender/case suitability should, instead, be to determine what resources are necessary in order to support any IPV case through the RJ process.