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From hellion to healer – restorative justice coordinator knows prison from the inside

Jackie Katounas began offending at age 12 after her father committed suicide. By age 16 she was in maximum security prison, developed a heroin addiction and spent the next 20 years in and out of Australian prisons. Her 138 convictions include drug dealing, armed robbery, and fraud.

But soon after she returned to New Zealand in 1994, Jackie’s life changed. “I was arrested for receiving but found that I knew the owner of the property, and he had been very good to me,” she says.

“I felt a deep sense of shame. I went to see him, and he extended his forgiveness to me. It was a catalyst for change.”

Now Jackie’s life has turned around totally. A faithful member of the local Wesleyan church, she worked as a facilitator for the Hawkes Bay Restorative Justice Network before becoming the Restorative Justice Services manager for Prison Fellowship in 2003. For the last five years, Jackie has worked with offenders who express a desire to meet their victims to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

Asked how she knows who will respond to the restorative justice process, she says “it’s the attitudes that are the controversial part.

“It’s not just the offender, but the victim who also has to be ready to receive. You also have to think about the offender’s family. They wear the blame and shame as well. They are the silent victims.”

Jackie says the hard work goes in before the actual meeting, which is “just the icing on the cake”.

Asked about church people’s attitudes to restorative justice, she says they’re not always as open as they could be. “I would expect a little glimmer of generosity of spirit from Christians but that’s by no means always the case. It shocks me a little bit.”

As well as continuing with managing the Prison Fellowship’s service, she has recently become actively involved in policy and programme development of restorative justice within New Zealand, and was a key speaker at the recent Upper Hutt conference.

In 2003, Jackie Katounas received the Kamil Shehade Award, an international award in recognition of an individual who has made an international contribution to the promotion of restorative justice.