The Restorative Justice Council defines restorative justice as:
bringing “those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.”
The restorative practice can be used anywhere and is often used in the criminal justice system, schools, communities and more.
Catch22’s victims services – Victim First, Beacon Victim Care and Nottinghamshire Victim Care – all offer restorative justice. Victim First continues to provide restorative justice during the pandemic, with 125 referrals and restorative conversations with 121 service users between August 2018 and January 2021.
Government research to evaluate restorative justice found 85% of victims who took part were satisfied with restorative justice and 78% would recommend it to other people in their situation. One person who found the experience positive said: “I was really pleased with what the offender said. He was sincere.”
While 78% found the process helpful, some were sceptical of what the offender was saying. One person said: “I was a little sceptical; I wondered if he was saying what I wanted to hear… It was a bit nerve wracking, but after a while I gained confidence, told him how I felt and what I wanted.”
Despite some finding restorative justice a difficult process, it is helpful and important to a greater extent.
Why is restorative justice important?
Restorative justice allows the victim to feel involved and heard outside of the usual clinical processes we often see in the criminal justice system. The victim is at the centre of the process and gets the opportunity to ask questions directly to the perpetrator, expressing feelings and emotions. The process can help the victim with processing these feelings, addressing the anxiety that they will be victimised again, and hopefully being assured that the offender does not intend on any further harm. By communicating with the victim, the perpetrator can see the harm they’ve caused, potentially offer some rationale for their behaviour, and attempt to make amends.
The government research found that communication between a victim and the offender reduces reoffending by 14%. Restorative Solutions suggest this could be because the offenders might not have seen the impact of their actions on the victim first-hand, seeing the person they harmed and how it has changed their life can cause them to stop committing crimes.
Restorative justice can be important for the community, it can resolve conflicts and prevent them becoming crimes, for example, it could be used for antisocial behaviour or neighbour disputes. The restorative practice allows people to see the consequences of their actions on the community. Some of the ways it is used in communities include community meditation, police and community support officers.
Restorative justice in practice
Within Catch22, Victoria Willis, Restorative Justice Practitioner, and Andrew Goodall, Restorative Justice Facilitator, worked with Maria and Greg whose story shows the importance and success in using restorative justice, despite the challenges of the pandemic:
In 2017 Maria’s son, Ryan was killed on his bike in a road traffic collision by driver Greg. In 2019, Greg pleaded guilty to Death by Careless Driving and Greg was sentenced to 2 years custody. In June 2019, Maria had stated that she wanted meet Greg face to face, as part of restorative justice.
At the end of September 2019, Victoria visited Greg in prison, she said: “It was clear that he had been struggling with the incident and was visibly haunted when talking about the incident.”
Maria was to set to meet Greg face-to-face on the 20th March 2020 in prison. The start of the pandemic disrupted the arrangements, and the national lockdown meant the meeting was postponed. During lockdown and restrictions, Greg was released from prison and needed time to readjust, and Maria was happy to wait until Greg was ready.
On 15th October 2020, Maria and Greg met over Zoom. They both spoke about how they had been coping and Maria told Greg what Ryan was like as a child, a son and a friend. Victoria said they “were so engrossed in their conversation, at one point they forgot Andrew and I were there. They spoke for almost two hours.” The meeting ended with both thanking each other and that they wanted to do it again in person. Following up with Maria, Victoria said “Maria stated that she felt it went well and that she felt like she was finally seeing him as a person.” Also following up with Greg, Victoria spoke to Greg about the experience who said “Maria was a wonderful woman and was pleased that by him taking part in the meeting helped her.”
The pandemic changed the way restorative justice happens, but with a new way of working the outcomes are still positive, helping people like Maria and Greg move forward from a difficult time together.