Project Turnaround earns kudos

When it comes to exceptional service and notable results, Timaru's restorative justice programme is leading the way.

The Ministry of Justice-funded programme, known locally as Project Turnaround, ranked No 1 out of 22 national providers in a recent survey.

The ranking is well-deserved and recognises the hard work of Timaru District Council Project Turnaround manager Viv Wood and administrator Di Cleverley, council group manager community services Sharon Matson said.

"It's a great result and recognition for the outstanding work Viv, Di and their team of facilitators do."

Restorative justice is a voluntary process for resolving crime that focuses on redressing the harm done to victims, while holding offenders to account and engaging the community in the resolution of conflict.

It is achieved through meetings, called conferences, between victims and offenders, which only take place if both victim and offender agree to it.

"The process gives victims a voice. Victims want to be heard ... it's important for their healing and empowers them," Matson said.

Having spent nearly four years in her role, Wood said the scale of the crimes varied.

"It could range from graffiti to manslaughter."

Offenders entered the restorative justice process after they pleaded guilty. A judge then decides if the case should be considered for restorative justice.

Wood said the number of cases referred to them varied, but "every case was different".

Having a good working relationship with other community groups and key stakeholders, including Timaru's resident judge and the police, was essential.

"The key to success is being able to make contact quickly and organise a time to meet the victim. It has usually been a long process so victims are usually raring to go and get things moving," Wood said.

Providing a flexible service to clients was crucial and that meant working long hours.

Passionate about her work, Wood said both victims and offenders were treated equally.

"Everyone involved in the process is treated the same. They are welcomed through the door the same ... and offered the same coffee," she smiled.

"It's about respecting everyone and treating them with dignity."

Matson said each victim and offender was given the opportunity to complete a survey.

"It's a small team but they are making a huge difference to many lives," Matson said.

It is an emotional job, Wood said, and one you have to respect.

"If you stop being human you shouldn't be doing this sort of work."

The Timaru Herald