Restorative justice allows focus to be on victims

Increasingly, victims and communities affected by crime are requesting restorative measures

Increasingly, victims and communities affected by crime are requesting restorative measures, before, during or after other actions are taken.  In this way, their needs can be better addressed by a system that has traditionally been focused on offenders.

This story is from West Yorkshire in England.

When Sarah punched a taxi driver in a drunken rage on New Year’s Eve, she realized she hit rock bottom.  Unemployed and involved in an abusive relationship, the 26-year-old had lost two children to social services and was suffering from a long-term alcohol problem.

She said, “I’ve had a drinking problem for a few years so I would drink to deal with things.  I was out with friends on New Year’s Eve and we went to get a taxi, and I was all over the place and there was an argument.  I don’t even know what happened – I just hit him.”

The six month community order by a court for common assault was merely her confirmation that her life was in danger of spilling out of control.

However, the sentence also opened an unexpected window of opportunity.

As part of the support she received from the probation service, Sarah, who lives in Thornhill Lees, was offered the chance to meet the man she assaulted.

The meeting took place under a restorative justice scheme that is designed to allow offenders to explain why they committed the crime and victims to talk about the impact of the offense on their lives.

Sarah explained, “I was really nervous and felt very ashamed.  I couldn’t even remember what he looked like.  Then I found out he was quite a lot older than me and that made me feel even worse.  But it went really well.  We had a talk about our lives and we both shed a little tear.  He ended up saying he felt like I was his daughter and he forgave me.”

Since the meeting, Sarah has quit drinking and is about to start college courses in English and maths.

She is also working with social services in the hope of being reunited with her children.

She concluded, “If it hadn’t been for restorative justice, I don’t know what I would have done.  I had to hit rock bottom before I could come back up.  Whatever happens now, I’m not going back to the way things were.”

The restorative justice facilitator commented, “She was quite an angry young lady, but you could see the transformation happening literally in front of your eyes.

“She hasn’t been arrested since, has stopped drinking and is turning her life around.”

This particular process is offered to people who have been convicted of crimes ranging from theft to murder.

There is no incentive for them in terms of reduction in their sentence and victims have to provide their consent to be contacted.  About half of the victims who are offered the chance to take part agree.  The take-up rate among offenders is much higher, at about 90 per cent.

Richard Tarnoff is coordinator of the Boundary Restorative Justice Program. Assistance from the Independent Academic Research Studies program, UK, is gratefully acknowledged. Trail is served by the Greater Trail Community Justice Program. Visit their website