By Stephanie Todd
Restorative Justice – what is it? The name doesn’t really do what is says on the tin. Known as ‘RJ’ the process is based around, communication between those affected by a crime and the person who caused the harm, exploring the impact of a crime and finding ways to repair the harm caused.
Violence and abuse is not acceptable. Where violence and abuse do happen, the power of speech and having a voice is paramount. This is exactly what restorative justice aims to do, give victims a voice.
RJ in Avon and Somerset is available to all victims of crime and anti social behaviour at any stage of their journey through the criminal justice system. RJ is now included in the Victims Code of Practice (VCOP) and it is therefore a right for victims to be able to access information about the service. This is something that Lighthouse Victim and Witness Care are tirelessly working to achieve across Bristol.
Historically, RJ was not used in domestic or sexual abuse cases. This is now not the case. In carefully assessed and risk managed cases, RJ can be suitable for some incidents of this nature. Our team work closely with professionals involved including Independent Domestic Violence/Sexual Advisors and Probation Officers to assess suitability. The process aims to give victims a voice to explain the real impact directly to the harmer, empowering them, providing an opportunity to gain closure from the incident and be able to move on positively from what happened.
Many victims are left with unanswered questions, most prevalent is the question why? There is only one person who can truly answer this question and that is the harmer, the person who committed the offence. RJ can allow this to happen in safe and controlled environment.
Within Avon and Somerset Police, we have a team of trained Facilitators who are dedicated to providing high quality restorative justice for those affected by crime. Whether it is a random assault by a man against a woman on her daily commute to work, homophobic abuse shouted to two females whilst enjoying a night out with friends or domestic and sexual abuse by a family member, Restorative Justice can be considered for all these crimes.
Thorough preparation work is conducted with both parties before we even consider bringing the parties into communication, we explore exactly what the parties would like from the process and assess whether this is achievable, this increases the chances of a successful outcome for the parties. We live by the mantra, ‘do no harm.’
RJ can take place either through face to face meetings, letters or communication through the Facilitators. We can be creative. It may be that the direct victim is unable to go through the process but however is willing for a family member or friend to represent them and be their voice. We can find a suitable way to a positive outcome.
For RJ to take place the harmer must take responsibility for their actions and both parties must be willing to engage with the process. It is always voluntary for both sides. Parties can change their mind at any stage. It is crucial for a successful outcome that all the parties wish to be involved.
So how does it work? RJ is focussed around simple yet effective questions including:
These questions can work for all incidents; try them at home with your children next time there is a disagreement and see if it works!
For us the real impact of what we do is found in the feedback we receive from those who have gone through RJ:
“It was very helpful. I never thought I’d get my answers, but I did. It’s been such a great help. I don’t know how else I would have got those answers. The answers I was given have changed things so much.”
“I had no idea how good this would be when I agreed to this journey. I could easily have not bothered but things could have festered for a very long time”
“Doing RJ was amazing. I feel much more settled and although it was tough, I’m really glad I went through the process”
“Big thanks for organising yesterday. It has truly closed a door for me.”
“Yesterday was very cathartic for us as a family. We can now put it behind us properly and look to a better future.”
RJ is still unfairly unknown, last November during International Restorative Justice Week we conducted a poll to find out exactly what the public knew. 39% of those we spoke to had heard of RJ, this whilst higher than the national average of 28%, still in our opinion is not high enough!
We also asked whether they would be interested in RJ if they were a victim of crime, 52% of those we spoke to would be interested, 21% may be interested and 27% would not be interested. This definitely highlights the need for RJ to be available and the fact that it is personal choice.
So I encourage you to get in touch with our team to find our more information. Our website contains more information and links to interesting films which really bring RJ to life. Let’s get talking about this process to raise awareness and ensure those affected by crime know there is a service which could help them get answers to questions, feel empowered by communicating with the harmer and be able to draw a line under what happened and live their life.
You can get in touch via:
Phone – 01179 529836
Twitter – @rjcoordinators
Our service has achieved the Restorative Standards Quality Mark through the Restorative Justice Council. This reassures victims that they have access to a good quality service.