Jas Purewal, Specialist Restorative Justice Caseworker at Victim First, tells us about restorative justice: what it is, the benefits, and how Catch22 is putting it into practice.
We’ve all come across things in life where we have been a witness to, or a victim of, harm and hurt. Often there’s a feeling of:
“I wish my voice could just be heard to show the impact.”
As a Specialist Restorative Justice Caseworker at Catch22’s Victim First service, I work with victims of crime in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Part of the menu of support we provide to victims is the offer of the opportunity to communicate with the offender, directly or indirectly. This process is called Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice is about having a safe space to have difficult conversations; to have your voice heard and for people to take responsibility. It is about healing and allowing people to move on with their lives.
Restorative Justice isn’t about apologising or saying ‘sorry’, but about having a safe space to express the impact of harm caused, and for the offender to understand, take responsibility, and be accountable for causing that harm.
It is a voluntary process, highly structured and relies on the consent of all parties to work towards repairing harm.
I’ve managed many complex and sensitive cases involving murder, sexual and domestic violence. Whatever the crime, I can see the overwhelming benefit of this restorative approach. It really allows people to move on even if there are no answers to questions such as “Why did you do this?” It allows closure through the process of being listened to, and speaking openly about their experience and the impact the crime has had on them.
There is overwhelming evidence that victims who have their voices heard have greater satisfaction with the justice system as a whole. Not only this, but a restorative approach can work to reduce court hearing and sentencing times – and therefore reduce costs.
Pushing policy change
Embedding restorative practices into justice policy is something we’re advocating at all levels – most recently through our response to the Restorative Justice All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry. In particular we put forward the following recommendations:
- Better joined-up working, more involvement of victim services by the police and probation services. If any statutory agency is crossing paths with a victim, they should automatically involve a victim support service as standard. This helps with making sure victims are not denied the opportunity of restorative justice further down the line and would help the Ministry of Justice to capture more evidence and data on the impact of restorative justice.
- A responsibility on Police and Crime Commissioners to support the sharing of information. We know that there are a huge swathe of victims that could benefit from restorative justice but that we aren’t able to reach once their immediate victim support needs are met. We need to have permission and the right safeguards to contact a victim to offer restorative justice up to a year after the crime has taken place – which is often the most appropriate time for restorative justice to take place
- The standardisation of the restorative justice process across the country, with the same process for referrals and data sharing.
Restorative practice – as opposed to purely restorative justice – is an approach that can be put into practice in other situations. For example, at Victim First we use this approach successfully in team meetings – which has increased participation and responsibilities and has resulted in better outcomes.
We’re setting up a Restorative Forum for colleagues across Catch22 who are not only working in, but those interested in, restorative justice and restorative practice. It will bring together colleagues from different departments from justice, education, young people and families and employability, who can learn from best practice and support each other in the work we do. We’ll look at how these restorative approaches are used in repairing harm between people and communities, restoring, and repairing divisions and strengthening and healing people.