Posted: Monday 24th February 2020
As part of the #BeHeard campaign, we spoke to Jules Cox, Director of Resolve West, who told us how Restorative Justice works for victims
We’re delighted that Restorative Approaches Avon and Somerset (RAAS) has been funded by the OPCC for a second time, enabling us to continue to run our vital service to 2023. Resolve West (formerly Bristol Mediation) of which RAAS is part, changed its name earlier this year to represent the range of conflict resolution and restorative justice services it now offers. The RAAS service offers restorative justice to victims of crime to help them cope, recover and move on from the harm they have endured. Our aim is to give the victim a voice, to feel heard and for the person responsible to be given a chance to repair the harm they have caused. Our help is person-centred, flexible and victim-led through direct or indirect communication, face to face contact, shuttle communication back and forth or letters.
The RAAS team is made up of three caseworkers, a senior caseworker and three RJ Coordinators, two of which are seconded police staff. I’m a caseworker, so referrals come into us via the police, Lighthouse, probation, other CJS agencies, voluntary sector, specialist agencies working with victims as well as self-referrals and other RJ services outside of Avon and Somerset. When we receive a referral our first contact is via letter with both parties, followed with a call to the victim to find out more about what has happened, how they are feeling, their understanding of RJ, what they hope to achieve and answer any questions they may have. We will then speak to the other party, directly or indirectly through probation, prison officer or through a support worker. We spend a lot of time making sure that any engagement is for the right reasons and that all potential risks are identified and mitigated against.
I think something really special about our service is that we use volunteer facilitators. When we’ve spoken to both parties, made an assessment of suitability and risk, it is then allocated to a pair of trained volunteer facilitators who then take the case forward. The volunteers all receive nationally accredited training, providing them with specialist skills in building a rapport with the victim, putting them at ease and guiding them through the process. They work with both parties, often for a number of month, and can sometimes involve travel across the country.
I find it really upsetting when I hear that RJ is considered a ‘soft option’ or that some cases are deemed ‘too complex’ or ‘too serious.’ Unfortunately, there is a misconception that there has to be a choice between RJ and criminal proceedings. This is simply not the case. RJ has no impact on any criminal justice action. RJ has a long history of being successful in low level crimes like ASB, shop theft and criminal damage but most of our cases now are working with victims of harassment, violence against a person, burglary, death by dangerous driving, hate crime, sexual assault, historic sexual abuse, manslaughter and murder.
The following feedback from some of the serious cases we have worked on speaks for itself:
- “Five years have gone by since the incident that changed all our lives. After such a long time, I wasn’t expecting any miracles to take us back to how it was before. But with of the help of the facilitators we have broken the ice and are slowly building bridges to a more positive future. A great service for mending broken lives.”
- “The facilitators helped me make sense of what happened without being pushy or putting words into my mouth. The pace at which they worked with me was great and having gaps between sessions helped me to reflect. I’m so pleased I went through this experience.”
- “I’d like to thank RAAS for their outstanding efforts throughout this process. They took us through a very emotional journey and showed kindness and support throughout. It helped my sister answer so many unanswered questions.”
- “It was the least I could have done for the family; I just hope it helped them to move on in some way.”
To find out more about our service please visit: https://resolvewest.org/ or call us on 0117 941 5879.