Defined Terms

The Father of Restorative Justice - Alexander Maconochie

Success of 'prisoner rehabilitation' on Norfolk Island by Captain Maconochie from 1840, whose remedies were largely adopted over 100 years later

In 1840, Alexander Maconochie became the Governor of Norfolk Island, a prison island where convicts were treated with severe brutality and were seen as lost causes. Upon reaching the island, Maconochie immediately instituted policies that restored dignity to prisoners, achieving remarkable success in prisoner rehabilitation. Maconochie formulated and applied most of the principles on which modern penology is based. Contrary to what was often asserted by his political opponents.  The period of his administration was peaceful; on an unexpected visit to the island in March 1843 Governor Sir George Gipps found 'good order everywhere to prevail' (Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 22, p 617).  

Captain Maconochie's policies were well in advance of their time. His ideas would be largely ignored and forgotten, only to be readopted as the basis of modern penal systems over a century later in the mid to late 20th century. 

Barry, John V., published a biography 'Alexander Maconochie of Norfolk Island', Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1958.  Barry stated “Maconochie was a pioneer in penal reform. His concepts and many of his practical measures are now the basis of Western penal systems.”  The Alexander Maconochie Centre, a prison in Canberra, is named in his honour.

The Father of Restorative Justice, Captain Alexander Maconochie, encountered strident criticism for his 'soft' treatment of inmates during his four year stewardship at Norfolk Island from 1840, amidst an era of vicious physical punishment evidenced in Corporal Punishment previously sentenced in Australia. 'soft' treatment wasn't the Current Wisdom for controlling hardened criminals on 'works gangs' and traditionalists spoke out disapprovingly. 

Doubtless, today, there are opponents of Four Gears of Early Rehabilitation and Release, particularly amongst proponents of Tough on Crime because they hold the Current Wisdom, albeit that it wasn't the Current Wisdom amongst 97% of the 108  billion 'circa' Homo sapiens' 125,000 years' occupancy of terra firma.  Such Current Wisdom usually has little understanding of Warehouse Sentencing in some western countries, driven by Penal Populism, has failed DozenlyBut are more intent with 'audience ratings' and the sound of their own voice.

Maconochie -

a)    introduced the idea of indeterminate rather than fixed sentences,

b)    implemented a system of rehabilitation in which good behaviour counted towards prisoners’ early release, and

c)    advocated a system of aftercare and community resettlement.

Below is an extract from Maconochie, Alexander (1787–1860) by John V. Barry:

Maconochie's notions of 'penal science' rested on the beliefs that cruelty debases both victim and the society inflicting it, and that punishment for crime should not be vindictive, but designed to strengthen a prisoner's desire and capacity to observe social constraints. Criminal punishments of imprisonment should consist of task and not time sentences; instead of being sentenced to a fixed period of imprisonment, an offender should be sentenced to be imprisoned until he had performed an ascertainable period of labour, which should be measured by the number of 'marks of commendation' he earned, the scale of marks being devised to encourage habits of industry and frugality.  A sentence should be served in progressive stages, one of which involved membership of a working party where each was held responsible for the conduct of the others.  Cruel punishments and degrading conditions should not be imposed and convicts should not be deprived of self-respect.  Although his proposals were commonly derided, they were favourably regarded by James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, and by (Sir) Alfred Stephen.


Norfolk Island by Captain Maconochie - London : J. Ollivier, 1848 - PDF

Norfolk Island by Captain Maconochie - London : J. Ollivier, 1848 - Word