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Different perspectives: victims and offenders meet to share their experience

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Restorative Justice - the process by which victims and offenders meet to share their experience

Victims who have met the people who have committed crimes against them have described the process as a positive experience which changed how they viewed what happened to them and has helped them put the incident behind them and move on.

The process, called restorative justice (RJ), gives offenders and victims a chance to meet each other in the presence of a trained facilitator and discuss the incident and its effect on those present and to decide on a mutually-acceptable way forward. It provides those taking part with an opportunity to understand what happened and why and how the incident made each other feel.

One victim who took part in restorative justice was a woman in her 60s who was the victim of a burglary in April. A 35-year-old man had stolen property but returned the following day to return a locket of clear sentimental value by throwing it over a wall into her garden. The offender was a drug user who had spent money stolen during the burglary on heroin. In the meeting he stated he wanted to stay clear of drugs and crime in the future. The victim rated the experience 10/10 and after the meeting said:

I thought that the RJ officer managed the process extremely well and I felt very supported throughout. The offender was caught very quickly and the system operated very effectively in keeping me informed. I felt that the meeting was very positive and gave myself and the offender chance to express regret about what happened and then move on to positive outcomes. I feel no animosity towards the offender. I think he did an amazing thing by returning my stolen locket. I wish him the very best I turning his life around and would like to be kept informed of his progress.”

This week is the Ministry of Justice’s Restorative Justice week to help promote the process and encourage people to use it where it is a suitable option as part of a resolution to a crime.  The week coincides with the announcement of £29million fund being made available to Police and Crime Commissioners and charities to help deliver restorative justice for victims over the coming three years.

Although it is not suitable for every crime that happens it is usually used in two circumstances. The first is an alternative to a criminal prosecution for minor offences, where it is felt that a meeting with a victim is more beneficial than a criminal route and the impact this has on the future life choices of offenders. It is also used for more serious offences such as burglary robbery and serious driving offences but this is only done once the offender has been through court and been sentenced. This ensures that the offenders taking part do so for the right reasons and not simply to look good in court.

Offenders are also helped by the process as a driver who killed a teenager can testify. The driver asked to meet his victim’s mother to explain himself and say how sorry he was for what had happened.  Speaking after the meeting he said: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I came out of the meeting a lot better than I did before. I was grateful for being able to speak and explain myself to [his mother]  and I took a lot of things out of the meeting. I’d just like to say thank you to everyone involved who helped to make this happen.”

The mother said: “Even though this wouldn’t be what everyone wanted to do, I’m so glad that I did it. I got answer to my questions and was very surprised at his attitude. He wasn’t cocky and came across as very remorseful and had a plan as to what he was going to do with his life when released. Only time will tell. I would recommend this process to anyone, as to hold onto hate for the offender only eats away at you and it will never change what happened, only continue to ruin your life.

For me it was a positive thing and now I can move on.”

Both the mother and driver scored the process 10/10 afterwards.

Chief Superintendent Kay Wozniak, Head of Criminal Justice, said: “When someone is a victim of crime they often don’t see the offender and see who is responsible for intruding into their lives and altering how safe they feel in their home and in their community. Equally offenders don’t see victims and this makes it easier for them to avoid thinking about the consequences of their actions.

“When victims and offenders meet it encourages them to talk about their own experience but also see it from a different perspective too. It is often a cathartic and the feedback we have from people who take part is overwhelmingly positive.”

“If you are the victim of a crime and you think restorative justice is something you would be interested in you should discuss it with the police officer investigating your case. They will be able to discuss with you if it is suitable in your situation and the options available to you.”

Ensuring victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system is a priority of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens. Speaking in support of restorative justice, Sue said: “I am hugely in favour of restorative justice as it has been proven to have more impact on an offender than a prison sentence or a court punishment alone.  The offender has to face the consequences of their actions and I truly believe that for the majority of cases it will change their future behaviour.

"In order for restorative justice to work effectively however, it must be a victim-led process as ensuring the victim regains control is an important step in the recovery journey.  I want victims to receive serivces that help them through their difficult time and I feel that restorative justice plays an important part in this."

To find out more about restorative justice nationally visit www.justice.gov.uk/rj

Posted on Thursday 21st November 2013
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