Restorative justice gives you a chance to make things right with the victim and those most affected by the offence.

You can do this through an exchange of information between the people most affected by an offence – the victim and their supporters (i.e. their family and friends) and you and your supporters (i.e. your family and friends). Restorative justice can happen either face-to-face or indirectly such as third party mediation, taped recordings or letter exchanges. These exchanges are called conferences.

Participants decide what type of conference will be best for them. Whichever method, the process always addresses three fundamental questions:

  • What happened?
  • How were people affected?
  • What needs to be done to make things better?

If you are a person who has committed an offence, restorative justice gives you opportunities to:

  • take responsibility for the offence
  • find out how the offence has impacted on others, and
  • repair the harm to the victim and others who have been hurt by what happened.

You can be referred to restorative justice at any time in the criminal justice system:

  • instead of going to court
  • as well as going to court, or
  • once the court has sentenced you. 

Participation is voluntary for all participants and can be withdrawn at anytime, up to and including a conference.

If you go to court for sentencing after you have participated in restorative justice, the court may consider whether you have accepted responsibility for the offence. This means that a court can reduce your sentence because you have participated in restorative justice but it is not required to reduce the sentence.

If you decide not to take part in restorative justice, or you pull out once the process has started, the court must not consider this when sentencing. If you say you were there when the incident happened, you did it and you know it was wrong, this doesn’t stop you from going to court and telling the court you are not guilty.

Offenders are encouraged to seek legal advice about participating in restorative justice.

For further information about the restorative justice process including what happens during a conference, see restorative justice steps.

 

Things To Know - Offenders

There are some things you should think about if you are going to participate in restorative justice (RJ):

  • You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to;
  • You don't have to meet the victim face-to-face if you don't want to;
  • You can talk to a lawyer at any time about doing RJ and about any agreement that comes out of a conference;
  • You can pull out of RJ at any time, up to and including a conference;
  • If you say you were there when the incident happened, you did it and you know it was wrong, this doesn’t stop you from going to court and telling the court you are not guilty;
  • You can be referred to RJ at any time in the criminal justice system:

- instead of going to court;
- as well as going to court; or
- once the court has sentenced you. 

  • If you go to court for sentencing after you have participated in RJ, the court may consider whether you have accepted responsibility for the offence.  This means that a court can reduce your sentence because you have participated in RJ but it is not required to reduce the sentence;
  • If you decide not to take part in RJ, or you pull out once the process has started, the court must not consider this when sentencing.
Why Participate?

If you are a person who has committed an offence, there are good reasons for you to take part in restorative justice (RJ). You can:

  • feel better about yourself;
  • explain your reasons for what happened;
  • help the victim feel better;
  • tell people how you feel about things now;
  • take responsibility for your actions;
  • give the victim and other people who were hurt by what happened a chance talk about it;
  • help to work out how to make things better for you, the victim and the other
  • people who were hurt by what happened; and
  • make a new start and try not to offend again.
Writing An Apology Letter

At times, offenders may be asked to write a letter of apology as a result of taking part in a conference. It can often be a hard thing for people to do, so the Restorative Justice Unit (RJU) has put together some helpful hints.

What is a letter of apology?

It's a way of telling everyone that you are sorry for what you did. Your letter should be in your own words and tell people how you feel about the offence now that you have participated in a conference and listened to what everyone has said.

What do you need to put in the letter of apology?

Try to make your letter of apology personal. You may want to write in your letter:

  • important things said in the conference;
  • how being in the conference made you feel;
  • how you feel about the offence now;
  • any changes in your life since the conference; and
  • what you felt when you heard about how everyone was affected.

Things to think about:

  • It will be much easier if you write the letter soon after the conference, while everything is still fresh in your mind;
  • Check your agreement to make sure you have lots of time to write it and get it to the RJU for forwarding to the victim;
  • Take a look at the 'Helpful hints for writing an apology letter' below to help you get started and how to structure your letter;
  • Take a look at the outline for an apology letter we have developed and fill in the blanks and add any additional information you might like to include in the letter;
  • Get someone to help you if you need it. Ask a family member, friend or call the RJU if you need some help.

After you have written your letter of apology, please bring it in or send it to the RJU:

Restorative Justice Unit
Justice & Community Safety Directorate
GPO Box 158
CANBERRA ACT 2601

 

Helpful Hints For Writing An Apology Letter

You should consider using the following as a guide to structure and a way to set out your letter of apology.

1. Reason for writing – Make a statement about the concerns for everyone’s feelings about the offence or offences. For example:

  • I am writing to you because I am feeling _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ about how I have treated you.
  • I am writing to you because I am feeling _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ about you and _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ about what I have put you through.

2. Statement of apology – Give clear and specific details of the offence and harm caused. For example:

  • I am very sorry for _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
  • I want to apologise for _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

3. Statement of responsibility – Make a statement about who is responsible for what happened. For example:

  • I know I am fully responsible for what happened and my actions that day. I should not have _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  because _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .
  • I know _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (co-offenders names if appropriate) and I are responsible for what happened that day. I know I am accountable for my actions and the choices I made that day. We should not have _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ because _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

4. Understanding of impact to others – Write about what you have learnt about how the offence has impacted on people. For example:

  • I am starting to realise some of what I have put you through. It must have been _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ when _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
  • I must have frightened you _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
  • I betrayed you by _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

5. What are you doing about changing your behaviour – Let the people you are writing to know what you are doing to change your behaviour or going to do so you don’t get into trouble again. For example:

  • I am seeing a counsellor so that I can make sure that nothing like this will happen again. I have learnt _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
  • I am learning to understand what I have put you through and I am working out what I need to do so I don’t to get into the same situation again. I know I should _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

6. Statement about distancing – Let people know that you are not coming back to hurt them again. For example:

  • I will stay away for your home/shop and your family/staff as I do not want to cause any of you any further hurt.

7. Recurrences – Write about your readiness and ability to face consequences. For example:

  • I know I must take responsibility for my actions. I know that I have committed a criminal offence as well as betraying you. I am ready to handle whatever consequences that I will have to face by you, my family, the community and the Police/Court.

8. Future intentions – Let the people you are writing to you know about your goals and plans for the future. For example:

  • I am turning my life around and I am now _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (list what you are doing i.e. getting counselling, looking for a job, got a job or traineeship, back at school etc).
  • Since the conference I have _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
  • If I see you or your family members I will be respectful.
  • I believe that you have every right to feel angry and betrayed.
  • I am not asking for you to forgive me I just want you to know that I am really sorry for what I did to you.

Outline For An Apology Letter

Below is an outline for a letter of apology. Think of what you could put into the blank spaces and what other details you could add to the letter.

Dear _________,

I am writing to apologise for __________________________
 ____________________________________________________.

After meeting you at the conference and hearing _______  
 ____________________________________________________.

I now realise ________________________________________
 ____________________________________________________.

At the moment I am aiming to _______________________
 ____________________________________________________.

Again, I would like to say ____________________________
for what I have done.

Your sincerely, 
 
Firstname

~~~

Below is a example of a letter of apology:

Dear John,

I am writing to you to apologise for breaking the windows in your house. It was wrong and I shouldn't have done it.

After meeting you at the conference and hearing how it affected you and your family I now know how much it hurt each of you. I am terribly sorry that it costed you all that money to replace the window and because it was night you had to board the windows up until morning. It must have been cold that night for you and your family. You taught me an important lesson about respecting other people's property.

I now realise that what I did was extremely stupid and I wish I'd thought harder about my actions and how it would affect people.

At the moment I am aiming to complete my year 10 certificate and then I want to go to trade school or get an apprenticeship to become an electrician.

Again, I am very sorry for the harm I have caused you and your family.

Your sincerely,
 
Jack

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Participant's Thoughts

Offenders who have participated in restorative justice (RJ) have said:

“It was different to what I expected. I expected them to point fingers at us and be more aggressive towards us.”

“I reckon that it went pretty well. It helped us know what we've done wrong and how it has affected others.”

”Felt it was the right thing to do to sort things out and get everything fixed up.” 

“I liked it actually. I felt comfortable. I wasn’t put on the spot by the questions.”

 “The conference went really well. It was difficult and emotional for everyone. I’m convinced the system [restorative justice] works. It made me feel a lot worse [for what I did], getting to know the victim”.

“I wasn’t feeling pressured. I was willing to do anything to put right what I did.” 

“Given that I knew the victim I feel better having done this than avoiding her by going to Court.”

“I think I dug myself out of a massive hole with her [the victim] and my family.”

“I felt that we could both clear our heads. I was sincere about my apology”

Offender supporters who have participated in RJ have said:

“I have met the convenor on a number of occasions. She really helped my son and she helped me. I was worried about how it would go and after the conference. It was a relief and repaired a lot of damage.”

“The conference was outstanding, not just for my son [the offender], but for our family unit. It has assisted us to move on.”

“To me I feel really grateful that the process was there and that it was an option. That it wasn’t a hard-line approach. Fortunate that the process was there for teenagers, a second chance for rehabilitation. Parents who come across this should be glad it’s there.”

“It makes them [the offenders] accountable for what they have done, rather than just sitting in front of the judge.”

“Ample time for everyone to speak and we were given equal opportunity to speak”.