Therapeutic courts inspiring law students

RMIT University (Victoria, Australia) law and social work students recently undertook a week-long study tour to Auckland, New Zealand.

Led by Rob Hulls and Stan Winford from the Centre for Innovative Justice, RMIT students visited the Rangatahi Youth Court, Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment and the Court of New Beginnings and were amazed and delighted by their experiences.

Students saw therapeutic and solution-focussed courts up close, and heard directly from Judge Taumanu, Judge Tremewan and Judge Fitzgerald, and the people whose cases were being heard. 

Students were able to observe the different ways these courts integrated multi-disciplinary teams and a whole range of TJ techniques into their processes to deliver positive interventions for people involved in the criminal justice system.

As the following reflections show, the study tour had a profound effect on these students and their ideas about how justice can and should be delivered.

Dushan Perera

The New Zealand Study Tour was an eye-opener, both professionally and personally.

The first day comprised of a workshop, provided for by Massey University, that set the week up perfectly. We were then able to take these learnings and insights into the various courts that we saw.

There were a number of moments that will always be etched into my memory such as being welcomed onto the Marae at the Rangatahi Court, or the Haka being performed in the AODTC following a graduation.

These were instances of a greater sense of community and connectedness that I have never viewed in a mainstream adversarial courting system. These experiences demonstrated the effectiveness of therapeutic justice and I wholeheartedly now believe that this approach is the most effective form of reducing recidivism in the criminal justice system.

With regards to my legal career, I have always been inclined towards corporate law rather than criminal law. However, after my above experiences and seeing the therapeutic effect of the criminal justice system I found each case and participant intriguing and unique.

I have consequently realised that there is such diversity within the fields of law and its imperative to be open minded and dynamic in changing situations. My decision to undertake this study tour has been a major catalyst in my maturation and personal growth. I have become a more confident individual with much more effective communicative and interpersonal skills. These skills will not only carry throughout the rest of my JD, but through my legal career as well.

Jordan Smyth

The biggest impression for me was the contrast between Australia and New Zealand in regards to restorative justice. We were fortunate to witness a day in the Alcohol and other Substances Court that follows a therapeutic jurisprudence model.

Within this model, the community is called upon to assist in rehabilitating individuals facing jail time for their offences which are drug and alcohol-related.  In these courts each offender, or more aptly defined as ‘participant’ has support from; social workers, lawyers, the police force, caseworkers and the judge.

The judge sits with everyone around a bench for the majority of the morning to discuss each participant. I was amazed at how thorough everyone was when conversing about each participant, they were all known on first name basis and a profile picture was handed around, emphasizing the humanistic approach. After lunch, the participant is required to talk at the lectern about their strengths and struggles. As the participant is interwoven into the process it facilitates a greater sentiment of connection and engagement. I think it is a fantastic model, where each offender has a face and a voice, with a history and a future, instead of a file number.

Jack Faine

For anyone that has ever sat in a courtroom and wondered if there is a better way of dealing with people that come in to contact with the justice system, then the CIJ Study Tour is your answer.

Five days in New Zealand visiting specialist courts that practice restorative justice has shown me that there is a better way; one that doesn’t involve an increase in prison units, police numbers or increased sentencing. Instead, I saw that courtrooms can be a place where people grow, where people confront the challenges of their drug dependancy and work through them with the support of the court.

I saw a courtroom where young Maori men and women are connected to their culture and their language. I saw a courtroom where Police prosecutors spoke about their ‘pride’ in the progress that certain young offenders had made whilst in the court programs. I saw a courtroom where adversarial posturing didn’t exist, but was replaced with a collective will to combat the factors that contribute to re-offending – be that homelessness, drug use, alcohol addiction or otherwise.

In short, I saw a courtroom where peoples’ lives are made better, a courtroom that I believe in.

Ash Thomas

The highlight of the tour was the opportunity to observe the Rangatahi Youth Court at Munurewa. The Court is located on an impressive marae – a traditional Māori venue. The court assists young offenders to gain a sense of their cultural identity while holding them accountable for their actions and addressing the underlying causes of their actions.

Before the formal part of the court day started, everyone involved shared their pepehā (a traditional way of greeting others that involves sharing your story) and have the opportunity to learn more about each other over morning tea – this is not the adversarial system we learn about in the classroom!

It was inspiring to see community elders, social workers, police officers, lawyers, the judge and others all working together to help the offenders in a way that really works.

The Court offers a type of comprehensive justice that I didn’t realise existed. It is a tough but compassionate system that challenges and supports all involved.

I feel privileged to have been able to see the things I saw on the tour and to have met some amazing people who share the same passion for innovation and therapeutic justice as I do.

Carla Hulls

The Court of New Beginnings (aka the homelessness court), had such a spirit of family that it was impossible not to get swept up in feeling at home. However, anyone that began to feel too comfortable in the courtroom was swiftly brought into line by an intimidating court officer endearingly referred to as Wheae (mother). Wheae Michelle embodied all that the court was trying to achieve. While demanding respect for the court and the process, she demonstrated the kind of genuine concern for the participants that usually only comes from one’s own family. At one point, she stood next to a man coming before the court, patting his back throughout his appearance and giving him a warm hug once it was over. It was incredibly inspiring to witness the passion and dedication of Wheae Michelle, and all those who worked in the court, and to see the difference that their belief made to people who felt like much of the community had turned their back on them.

Catherine Dawson

At the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (AODTC), I was struck by how time- and resource-intensive the process appeared to be: from the time the judge spent with each person, to the services the offenders were engaged with, to the team of specialists who clearly knew each case and offender intimately. So much tailored support and assistance is available to each offender – and yet, there is still a sound economic case for approaching justice in this way.

For me, it really throws into sharp relief just how much the traditional, adversarial approach falls short. Nobody advantages from a system that spends more for worse outcomes. Punitive approaches may be politically popular, but I think any member of the community who spent a day in the AODT court – or any of the specialist courts we visited on the tour – would be given reason to think twice about how the justice system treats offenders.

Veronica Snip

The restorative justice courts we visited in New Zealand turned my understanding of the legal status quo on its head. These courts utilise the law as a means of catching people, addressing the causes of their offending and supporting them to reintegrate into society. In this way, the role of lawyers and police is substantially altered, as ‘winning’ the case takes a back seat to actually considering what outcome would be best for the individual. While in New Zealand, we sat in on the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (AODTC). This was a really moving experience, and although throughout the day were heard stories of people at the lowest points in their lives, I left the Court feeling empowered. At the AODTC we saw defence counsel make submissions requesting extended sentences for their clients so as to effectively achieve rehabilitation, and police prosecution applaud the success of individuals going through the court process. It was bizarre to see people who were likely in and out of the justice system for the majority of their lives walk into court and feel a sense of pride in themselves.

In restorative justice, the law makes sense; the individual is put at the center, and factors that exacerbate recidivism are brought to the fore. On this trip I saw the potential that the law has when it shifts from its anarchistic punitive approach to one which recognises the complexity of life and of offending. Through this experience, I developed a real sense for the kind of lawyer I want to become, and have come back inspired to push for change in our own system.

Wil Van Der Pol

The JD Study Tour to New Zealand was an amazing experience. I think the most lasting impression I have of the trip was our day at Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua, the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court. It was uplifting to see the care and respect Judge Lisa Tremewan showed for the people who were in the AODT Court system, and how positively the vast majority had responded to the program. We were lucky enough to see a ‘graduation’ from the court program, and I think the graduate summed up the success of the system when he said he was glad to have been arrested, because the AODT Court program had given him the opportunity and support to overcome his drug addiction and turn his life around.

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The Refugee Crisis in India: Can a therapeutic jurisprudence lens assist?

Guest blogger Nabeela Siddiqui, pursuing a Master in Laws (Constitutional Law), University of Madras, and Chennai, India writes…

Someone recently asked me ‘what is TJ?’ Coming from a law background, my understanding was legally inclined, I told her, and it is the “study of the role of law as a therapeutic agent”.

I have been working on the Refugee crisis, for some time now. Be it in the capacity of an internee at AALCO (Asian African Legal Consultative Organization), or writing as a researcher, my urge to know more has ignited the fire for more indepth research.

I have been reading extensively about the on-going discussions about refugees. I feel there is a need to view the same, through the lens of Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ). Probably, the definition which I learnt and stated in the beginning of my discussion could be deployed to squeeze out some solution based policy structures, to deal with the on-going Refugee crisis in Myanmar.

The Crisis

To those who are unaware of the Rohingya refugee crisis, Rohingya refugees are people fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government’s peace process makes no provision for dealing with the crisis. The country refuses to even recognise the term ‘Rohingya’. The Rohingyas’ claim to citizenship rests on their assertion that they constitute an ethnic indigenous group of Myanmar, which can trace their lineage to an old Arakan kingdom, and that they are not merely Bengalis. But the Myanmar government continues to deprive the Rohingyas citizenship, marking a policy of exclusion. Gross human rights violation and eminent “Fear of persecution”, has led them to flee and cross borders.

The challenge props here are, when the Central Government in India, announced the deportation of these 40,000 Rohingya Refugees. The core of my issue is surely not at all, advocating for refugee rights or talk on some angles from International law perspectives. The point I am trying to draw here is what could be the best possible practice available? How to strike a balance between International comity and norms in contrast to the national security issues of the receiving state?

The heroic character of TJ

This is where TJ comes into the picture. Being heroic in nature, TJ is that antidote that rescues the cursed princess, bringing her back to life. Talking of the jurisprudential angle here, in specie we have certain peace keeping obligations that International law creates, for mutual co-operation between States. And, then we have these municipal laws which correspond to a State’s approach to the governance and laws in the said ambit.

Talking in Indian context, we have Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which enshrines on all persons the right to life and personal liberty, which could be curtailed by the procedure established by law.

So, we have the law, we have the subject matter of the law, i.e. the designated group of people, and a problem worth working upon. With that structure we need to employ TJ and tackle the issue in a modern yet accommodative fashion.

In India, the whole issue of refugee crisis has taken a purely political colour with the advent of time. The present government seems to find these refugees (Rohingyas), as potential fodder to radical groups present in the country. Apart from the national threat angle, the pressing religious colour to the whole issue has also polarized the views when advocating human rights for all.

The question worth pondering upon would be, could Local Secular Organisations (LSOs) be of assistance?

Could TJ be an answer to the Refugee crisis in India?

My TJ research has led me to the view that one such model in India could be great reliance on Local Secular Organisations (LSOs) over Faith Based Organisations (FBOs).

Some benefits of LSOs would be that they have a local view point, knowledge and skill base. LSOs have been powerful tool for advocacy work both at local and national levels, making known the plight of the forgotten displaced and untouched refugees.

With FBOs the faith ‘label’ can act as a barrier rather than a bridge. In contexts where religious identity has been conflated with political position, being identified as a ‘Muslim organisation’ has made the situations more complicated.  But, the same is not the case with local secular organisations.

For example In Hyderabad, the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), a non-governmental organization (NGO), helps the Rohingyas obtain UNHCR cards, which are valid for two years. “Once we are approached, we prepare documentation for the process, which takes three months or more (to get a card). It is a very rigorous process of three interviews and investigation, after which a card is issued,” said Mazher Hussain, executive director, COVA.

COVA monitors the refugees in getting them the UNHCR card. They also coordinate with the police to give them records about the refugees. The refugee card comes in slots after the interview has been taken and it has a validity of two years. “We are interviewed at the UNHCR office for the refugee card. They cross-examine and question us to check if we actually belong from there” said Mohammed Rafiq.

An Indian wellbeing vis-à-vis TJ research tools

For those concerned with the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic effects of the law on legal actors, research is needed to look into the contributions of LSOs versus the FBOs, when it comes to tackling international problems like refugee crisis within the municipal ambits.

In terms of research, it will be necessary to examine whether these organisations and their experiences does in fact pose particular challenges for national security. This will necessitate comparisons with other disciplines and jurisdictions. There will also be fascinating comparators to make between organisations of different orientations within different parts of the India. Including asking questions such as whether the belief and faith based local communities/organisations may provide a sound base for bolstering community resilience in immediate aftermath of crisis, in consonance with the Constitutional matrix of the Nation?

Research on this topic would be a novel and also might be of great importance to the policy structures pertaining to Nations like India, which although is not a signatory of Refugee Convention 1951, but has a long history and constitutional obligation to safeguard the human rights of ‘all persons’, including refugees.

Read more by Nabeela Siddiqui:  Law As A Therapeutic Agent: The Advent Of A New Age Research

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Exporting Drug Court Concepts to Traditional Court (TJ Court Craft Series #10)

Judge Jamey Hueston (Retired) writes…

On any given day, in courtrooms across the world, judges witness the unfortunate consequences of drug abuse reflected by some offenders who are in court “nodding out” from a “heroin high” while waiting for their cases to be called. A steady stream of people with untreated mental-health issues also enter courtrooms, often displaying oppositional attitudes, disruptive behavior, and cognitive dis-abilities.

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Peer-led mentoring program to break cycle of crime & imprisonment

A Therapeutic Jurisprudence approach is multidisciplinary.  It invites us to draw from other disciplines — such as social work, psychology and criminology — to improve the wellbeing of people who are in contact with the legal system.

In this blog we hear about a new project based on the ground breaking Churchill Fellowship research of Claire Seppings that does just that…

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A pro forma expungement proceeding: A lost therapeutic opportunity?

Professor David Wexler writes…

I recently learned of a very pro forma—but successful—felony expungement proceeding, a proceeding that puts into sharp focus the difference between the Therapeutic Design of the Law (TDL) and the Therapeutic Application of the Law (TAL).  

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Therapeutic jurisprudence: Reforming the law in Pakistan

In a new article Judge Amir Munir, a Judge in the Punjab and an Instructor at the Punjab Judicial Academy, explores how therapeutic jurisprudence has inspired legal system reform in Pakistan. Continue reading

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Therapeutic Jurisprudence rising in Japan!

tj photo japan

TJ founder David B. Wexler reflects on his recent visit to the Japan where TJ is being used as a lens for legal system reform…

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