No. 5: Village Based Restorative Justice; Ifoga

July,6, 2014

I went to several courts in Fiji, Western Somoa (Somoa today) and Tonga. All had foreign magistrates (to the best of my recollection, New Zealanders), who presided over their courts at the time. I remember thinking that using foreign judges or even judges from the next village was a problem where communites were so insular, and conflicts so localized that they needed community based solutions.

I had read about the custom among the Polynesians that involved a wrongdoer’s family making amends to the victim and the victim’s family by bringing food and gifts to the  family as informal family based justice, called Ifoga. It was understood that the offender’s family would take whatever measures were necessary to control the offender in the future. I was told that a family would literally camp on the neighbor’s steps until they would accept the proposed restitution. A wonderful concept and one that makes sense when the malfeasor is known and the damages relatively minor.

I was in a Somoan Court when the New Zealand magistrate was asked to accept this form of restituion in the case before him. He rejected the offer out of hand, and I cannot say I disagreed with him. The defendant had thrown a rock at a girl and blinded her in one eye. Something more than restituion was clearly called for. But the idea of bringing peace to the community by making restitution and even more importantly relying on the family itself to control the miscreant had an authentic ring to it.



Brazilian Judge creates a new incentive for prisoners


The Best Of: This article first appeared on this website September 10, 2012, describes the efforts of a Brazillian Judge to develop prisoner incentives that work for the community, and the prisoners themselves

 Jose Henrique Mallmann, a Brazilian Judge in Santa Rita do Sapucai was looking for a way to encourage prisoners to give back to their community. In a Google search he came across a story of an American gym that used the energy from exercise bikes to power  the club’s lights. Today there are there are four bicycles that require 10 hours of pedaling to fully charge one battery. The energy is enough to power 10 street lamps, out of 34 lamps that provide light for the plaza. Prisoners earn one day off their sentence with every 16 hours of pedaling (CNN News story).

This story is a reminder of why work (and education) incentives should be a part of every offenders rehabilitation plan. Some call it restorative justice, but whatever the name, its efficacy has been understood for a very long time. Scientists tell us that incentives are four times a s effective in reducing recidivism as sanctions. If you think about it, it makes sense. Those who have a chance to earn a reward are far more likely to appreciate an incentive and be encouraged to correct their behavior than someone who is punished to achieve the same end.

It also suggests that we in the courts ought to be looking for incentives wherever we can find them as a way to turn offenders away from crime. It’s not a panacea, but it is an important tool that the court and criminal justice system need to pay attention to. It is used by many correctional institutions, but rarely by judges. Why shouldn’t there be court progress reports, incentives, and certificates of accomplishments, to encourage those in custody to work toward both their successful release from custody and rehabilitation in the community. Judge Henrique Mallman figured out it could be done, and so should we.


© 2007 -  Reentry Court Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Reentry Court Solutions Powered by Communications Team