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Research Shows Restorative Justice Reduces Reoffending Rate,
Presents Solution to Problems in Judicial Process, Prison Overcrowding
“A group of teenagers attacked a health volunteer out of misunderstanding while he was on guard at a local hospital in Si Sa Ket province. Later on, attackers not only knelt down to ask for an apology through the arrangements of their family and community leaders but also offered Bt20,000 compensation. The victim forgave and returned Bt20,000”.
This case, a solid example of how “community can take part in judicial process”, was highlighted during a webinar on “Harmonious Justice: Background and Expectations of Thailand’s Criminal-Justice Process”. Held by the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), the webinar took place on 15 September 2021 to introduce the research on “Harmonious Justice: Thailand’s Approach to Restorative Justice” and the Thai translation of "UN Handbook on Restorative Justice Programs" (Second Edition)" to provide judicial personnel with tools to upgrade their work and knowledge that can apply to the Thai context.
TIJ advisor Prof. Dr. Kittipong Kittayarak, who has advocated restorative justice in Thailand throughout the past few decades, told the webinar that restorative justice promised solutions based on the consensus of all relevant parties including victims and offenders thus paving way for remedy as well as harmony.
“Instead of focusing on retribution, Thailand should change its paradigm and embrace restorative justice. Several foreign countries have already jumped on this path. Excessive emphasis on retribution-based punishment has not only overwhelmed courts and prisons but it has also failed to curb crimes,” he pointed out.
Restorative justice in essence resonates with Thailand’s deep-rooted culture. Therefore, if the concept applies systematically, it should be able to solve many judicial issues. Importantly, the proper application must include clear identification of crimes’ root causes. Restorative justice is about bringing parties in conflict together on a voluntary basis for heart-to-heart talks in an appropriate atmosphere to encourage repentance, forgiveness, and then the new beginning. Restorative justice process must also recognize that parties involved must be forgiving for harmony to really happen.
Prof. Dr. Kittipong hoped that the concept of restorative justice would be used outside judicial system too, for example at schools where bullying was reported. In his view, harmonious justice will materialize not just with the introduction of supportive laws, legal mechanisms, and strategies but also the engagement of communities. When communities acknowledge the concept, they will be able to help take care of both offenders and victims.
Conducted nationwide through collaboration with foreign experts, a TIJ research has found that restorative justice can prevent reoffending when communities play an active role in support of judicial process.
“Restorative justice can fill the gap within Thailand’s criminal justice system. Retribution now separates offenders from victims, depriving them of opportunities to clear up the air and to reach mutual understanding. Victims have little participation in judicial process and end up having no say about what their remedy should be,” Prof. Dr. Kittipong commented.
Mr. Ukrit Sornprohm, lead researcher and project manager at TIJ, said victim-centric judicial system accorded importance to the remedial process as it improved the relationships among parties in conflict and promoted social harmony. When restorative process was integrated into justice system, victims and offenders could talk in a way that led to repentance, the show of responsibility, and the delivery of remedy.
According to him, the restorative justice concept can apply to the stage of legal enforcement too. In Thailand, the Corrections Department has deployed the concept in designing activities between prisoners and victims/communities as well as among prisoners, and in preparing prisoners’ social reintegration. Even though the application has run into some problems, it marks progress for restorative justice in Thailand.
Presently, restorative justice has been most accepted in juvenile cases in Thailand. Directors of juvenile observation and protection centers are allowed by laws to consider using restorative justice. With this option, young offenders will not have criminal records and get opportunities to improve their behaviors. Their family will take part in restorative-justice talks with victims.
According to research findings, key indicators of restorative-justice success should be offenders’ improved behaviors/ability to avoid reoffending; agreements reached by parties in conflict; and victim satisfaction.
Prof. Yvon Dandurand, another key researcher, revealed during the webinar that Canada’s justice system complied with international standards, and all its states were required to promote restorative justice. He said restorative justice promised to satisfy victims during the remedial process, reduce reoffending rate, offer offenders’ smoother reintegration into society, and boost public confidence in the justice system. According to him, restorative justice worked especially well in cases where parties in the conflict used to have good relations before. If offenders are underage, parents/guardians will be engaged in the decision making process. Both victims and offenders can opt-in or opt-out of the restorative justice stage, with full information on their choices provided.
Mrs. Santanee Ditsayabut, director of Nitivajra Institute, disclosed that a total of 612,830 cases reached Thailand’s courts of first instance in 2019. Of them, 103,121 resulted in jail terms while 265,840 led to suspended jail terms. Statistics back to 2013 also revealed that 30 percent of convicts had reoffended for three consecutive years. These figures reflect that although courts have meted out retributive punishments, reoffending rate is still relatively high.
Believing that “overwhelmed courts and prisons” are proofs of the ineffective judicial process, Mrs. Santanee described restorative justice as a solution. She also pointed out that restorative justice would encourage repentance, not just confession, and lead to proper remedy.
National Human Rights Commissioner Ms. Pitikan Sithidej strongly recommended restorative justice for environmental-crime cases in which ethnic groups were accused of encroaching on national parks despite the fact that their families had lived there for generations. She added that medical-malpractice cases should also be handled on the basis of restorative justice.
Mr. Atiruj Tunbooncharoen, presiding justice of Chon Buri Court, said the criminal justice process now attached importance to remedy for victims and even encouraged mediation before the cases came to courts. However, he pointed out that the restorative justice process was not without challenges given that remedy was mostly in the form of financial compensation and sometimes victims felt they were not compensated emotionally.
Also, Mr. Atiruj pointed out that courts needed supervisors from communities to watch over suspects who were bailed out without a bond.
TIJ executive-director Prof. Phiset Sa-ardyen reckoned that challenges existed for the implementation of restorative justice especially in the face of the huge number of cases, the need to efficiently protect criminal victims’ rights, and legal constraints. However, he explained that in essence, it took community engagement and understanding for restorative justice to materialize as at its heart were cooperation from all sides and a focus on victims.
The research on “Harmonious Justice: Thailand’ s Approach to Harmonious Justice” and “the UN Handbook on Restorative Justice Programs” (Second Edition)” promise to equip judicial personnel with practical tools to remove obstacles, facilitate remedy, and enforce laws.
You may download the full research and the Thai translation of the UN Handbook fromhttps://knowledge.tijthailand.org/th/publication/detail/handbook-rj-programmes-2edition#book/