Restorative Justice for Juveniles and Adults in Thailand
Thai criminologists and criminal justice practitioners first learned about the concept of restorative justice in 2000, but the first implementation of restorative practices did not occur until 2003 when a family group conferencing initiative was set up by the Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection. In 2004, the Department of Probation also implemented victim-offender mediation with adult cases.
Restorative justice for juveniles
The Department of Juvenile Observation launched the first conferencing programme for juveniles in June 2003. This was followed by implementation of the practice, along with regulations and guidelines, in the 52 Juvenile Observation and Protection Centers around the country. These centers used an adapted version of New Zealand's family group conferencing approach, and incorporated the community as a significant part of the process. This is because in Thai society the community plays a very significant role in nearly every aspect of the lives and social functions of the Thai people. Therefore, the conferencing approach in Thailand was called Family and Community Group Conferencing (FCGC).
The implementation of restorative justice for juveniles in Thailand has developed quickly, in part due to a law supporting this practice, although not drafted for that purpose. This law, the Juvenile and Family Court and Procedure Act, has two relevant articles -- Articles 50 and 63 -- that facilitate the implementation of FCGC.
Article 50 provides that when a child is arrested, the police are obligated to send the child to the Protection Center within 24 hours. Article 63 gives the Director of the Protection Center the authority to recommend a non-prosecution order to the prosecutor in the jurisdiction. In making such a proposal, the Director uses his/her discretion based on three factors:
- the offence committed is punishable by no more than 5 years imprisonment
- the Director is of the opinion that the child can be reformed without being prosecuted in court;
- the child consents to be under the control of the Director in the follow-up monitoring.
In practice, not every case within the limit of 5 years imprisonment goes through FCGC because certain criteria have to be met:
- it must be the child’s first offence;
- the child has to plead guilty and want to repair the harm done;
- the victim must consent to use FCGC for the case.
Article 63 had been law for several decades without being used because Directors did not want to exercise this discretion alone. FCGC addressed this concern by drawing in the key stakeholders. Conference participants include the victim, the juvenile offender, the parent/s and relative/s of the child, a psychologist, a social worker, one or more representatives of the community, the Director of the Protection Center, the police investigator, the prosecutor, and the conference facilitator.
Experience has shown that preparation is the most difficult and vital part of the process. The conference facilitator explains the entire process, including the positive and negative aspects of FCGC, to the victim, the child offender and his/her parents. In many cases the facilitator has to approach the victim more than once. With good and appropriate preparation, failures in the conferences are very much reduced.
Table 1. Family and Community Group Conferencing Statistics (from 1 June 2003 to 30 June 2006)
|Potential cases for FCGC||16,930 cases|
|FCGC successfully organized
|Cases with non-prosecution orders||10,360 cases|
|Cases with prosecution orders||121 cases|
|FCGC Juveniles recommitting another offence||361 persons|
Iit is very interesting to note that the reoffending rate of children what participated in FCGC is only 3 percent; 15-19% of children prosecuted in courts reoffend. The Department believes that using family and community in solving the problem of children in conflict with the law is the right path. Moreover, it is an undisputable fact that family and community are the two most important factors in helping children behave and become valuable human resources for society.
Restorative justice for adults
After using restorative justice approach with juveniles, the Department of Probation initiated a programme for adult offenders in 2004. While there is no law supporting this practice for adult offenders, the master plan of the criminal justice system stipulates one of its visions is “to develop the justice system by enabling effective use and also enhancing a just and fair, restorative and peaceful society beyond an equilibrium between law enforcement and human dignity1. ”
In May 2004, the Department of Probation implemented restorative justice practices in 11 Probation Offices on a voluntary basis. Three months later, all directors of Probation Offices throughout the country agreed to conduct the restorative justice practice in their offices. Currently, 96 Probation Offices conduct restorative justice practices and have 2-3 mediators in each office.
The restorative justice practice for adult offenders is called Restore-relationship conferencing. Similarly to victim-offender mediation, this process occurs at the pre-sentence investigation stage. Only cases with identified victims are selected. A wide range of offences including sexual offences, offences against life and body, and offences against property are eligible for the process. However, not all offences in these types are eligible. Most of them must be compoundable offences2 , for example sex offences against persons over the age of 15, property offences against relatives and some petty offences.
Cases are referred by the court for pre-sentence investigations. Trained probation officers appointed to be mediators will contact both victims and offenders. The initial contact is done by phone, letter, or personal contact. The mediator can invite the victim(s) and their supporter(s) as well as the offender(s) and their supporter(s) to the meeting. An agreement made during the meeting will be included in the pre-sentence report and considered by the court. If the court agrees with the agreement, it will use it as an alternative sanction.
Table 2. Statistics of Restore-relationship conferencing (from June 2004 to June 2006)
|Number of cases|
|No agreement made
In addition, the Department of Probation is piloting the use of restorative justice practices in domestic violence cases. Cases are referred from the police, non-government organizations, and some governmental hospitals. From January 2005 to May 2006, 38 cases were referred to this project. The results of the project and its implication are being evaluated.
In conclusion, many victims and offenders participating in restorative justice reported satisfaction with the process and outcomes. They said that they received an apology and experienced positive feelings, forgiveness, and sympathy, which rarely happens in the conventional criminal justice system. These reports are spreading, and the public is gradually acknowledging the benefits of restorative programmes and practices. The next and more difficult task will be to expand, monitor, and maintain high standards of practice, making sure that the process benefits victims, offenders, and the community as much as possible.
1 Boonsit, Angkana. Restorative Justice in Thailand: Lesson Learned. Speech presented at the 11th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
2 Compoundable offenses are those considered eligible to be settled between the alleged victim and the accused.