Fellow Since 2006
Restorative Justice Centre
This profile was prepared when Mike Batley was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
South Africa remains a hotbed for violent crime, with notably high rates of repeat offenders. As a probation officer and social worker, Mike became aware of the need to focus on the root causes of crime in order to try to prevent recidivism and to address the often-overlooked needs of victims. He realized that the other players in the justice system (notably magistrates, judges, prosecutors, lawyers) did not share the same focus—they were uninterested in external circumstances unrelated to simply determining guilt and punishment. A close look at root causes needed to be part of the whole system, not just the aspects focused on rehabilitation. After being exposed to the emerging international movement of restorative justice through a pilot project in 1996, Mike began to see this as a framework that brought the above issues together within a well articulated value system. He became passionate about its potential application in South Africa and began to work at mainstreaming it into the existing system, thereby fundamentally changing the way the justice system actually deals with crime. The concept of restorative justice focuses not on guilt and punishment but understanding the circumstances of crime and how best to address the needs of victims. The process also brings in the community around both the victim and the offender, making the responsibility for crime more collective—not just in the hands of the overburdened, bureaucratic justice system. A key process is called “conferencing” which is a form of conflict resolution. The focus of conferencing is on creating an environment in which offenders can accept responsibility and through discussion with the victim find ways of “righting the wrong” and preventing recurrence. Once an agreement has been reached, forgiveness and healing begin in earnest. Mike realized that such an approach could both complement and serve as an alternative to the current system. In addition to the direct services to victims and offenders and strategies like conferencing, Mike crafted strategies such as skill development to increase offender competency, which is enacted through community-issued sanctions and monitoring.