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How is restorative justice beneficial?

In her latest blog, PCC Alison Hernandez raises awareness of restorative justice through a real life case study.

During my conversations with victims of crime across Devon and Cornwall I am often told about the impact that crime has on victims and communities.

Crime is destructive! It frequently causes untold harm, trauma and damage to those affected. Of course it isn’t always just victims who are affected by crime; families, witnesses and communities are affected too.

Whilst traditional justice approaches are needed to keep people safe and prevent offending, they don’t always repair harm or give victims the sort of justice they need to move on from what has happened. Listening to what victims need to cope and recover it became clear to me that they need a voice and an opportunity to explain to the person responsible how the crime has affected them. Victims have also told me that they have questions about the crime that only the person responsible can answer - questions like why did you pick on me?

Restorative justice (known as RJ) exists to help victims move on from what has happened to them by giving an opportunity to communicate directly with the person responsible for the harm they have suffered in a safe, supportive and structured way. Many people say they have never heard of RJ before – and I want to change that, partly by writing about it in blogs like this.

Not only do I want to raise awareness and understanding, I want all victims in Devon and Cornwall who would like to be able to take part in restorative justice to be able to do so. As part of my Police and Crime Plan I have commissioned a new restorative justice service for all victims of reported and non-reported crime across Devon and Cornwall.

The service is provided by Make Amends an independent, quality assured restorative justice service which is part of local charity Shekinah.

One local victim of crime who recently took part in a restorative justice process said that ‘a weight had lifted’ knowing that the offender took responsibility for the harm they had caused. In the same case, the offender reflected that he was pleased to have helped repair some of the harm he had caused.

Clearly for this victim and for others who take part in restorative justice, the process is powerful, not only because it is voluntary for all of those involved, but because it offers closure, healing and empowerment.

Another example came after a group of young people threw large items of masonry at beautiful stained glass windows and damaged more than 70. The cost of repairing the damage was estimated to be in the region of approximately £25,000.

Make Amends was approached by a local police officer after he was able to identify the young people responsible from CCTV footage. Members of the church and its parish representatives were keen that young people were not punished for their behaviour, but did want them to understand the impact of their actions on the church and the local community. The young people and their families were also spoken to and agreed to become involved.

Make Amends assessed that a restorative conference would be a positive way for everyone to communicate with each other so that they could find a way to move on from what had happened. The first meeting was a positive one. The facilitators made sure that everyone had the opportunity to speak and to be heard. Whilst it was challenging for the four young people to listen to the harm they had caused and to face up to the people they had hurt, each one of them appeared genuinely remorseful and said that they regretted what they had done.

After the meeting the young people were asked if they would like to go into the church to see the damage that they had caused. They all accepted the invitation and remarked that they were sorry they had broken such beautiful windows.

In feedback, church members commented that “as the families left each boy came up to us and apologised again for the damage and upset they had caused. Overall, the process appeared to be productive and we all came away satisfied with the outcome, feeling that we could indeed all move on".

From a community perspective, a report about the conference was publicised in the local newspaper which reflected the positive experiences of those who had participated.

Victims can access this service directly or through the Victim Care Network. There is no obligation for victims to take part, but trained experienced practitioners can meet with those expressing an interest to see if restorative justice will fulfil their needs.

For me restorative justice is a game changer. It supports victims to cope and recover from crime, reduces reoffending and helps communities to build resilience. Everyone benefits.

Alison Hernandez