Awareness week shines spotlight on benefits of Restorative Justice
As we mark International Restorative Justice Week, two users of the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service have spoken about how it helped them move forwards after being affected by crime.
Restorative justice is used to help victims of crime cope and recover from what they have experienced, while challenging those who have caused harm to recognise and take responsibility for their actions.
Aimed at bringing the victim and offender into safe, supported communication, restorative justice gives those affected by crime the chance to explain the impact on them - how it made them feel and the consequences of what happened – as well as to ask questions and seek an apology if they wish.
By taking part, offenders have the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions, offer an explanation and take steps to repair the harm they caused.
Recognising the benefits of restorative justice both in supporting victims and rehabilitating offenders, the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for Norfolk and Suffolk commissioned a joint Restorative Justice Service in 2019.
Dawn Lamb from the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service explains what RJ is and how it can help both victims of crime and offenders (filming credit Champaigne Photography):
Cases can be self-referred to the service, or professionals from a range of agencies such as Victim Support or the National Probation Service can make a referral on behalf of the victim with their consent. Each case is assessed individually for suitability.
Since 2019, the service, which is delivered by Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies, has worked on over 70 cases.
Rebecca’s* partner was killed during a fight with someone she considered to be a close friend. Not only did she have to deal with losing her partner, she struggled to come to terms with the fact the offender was someone she knew and was close to. When the offender was released on probation after a long spell in prison, Rebecca contacted the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service to ask for help in getting answers to her questions and saying all the things she had been thinking and feeling for so long.
“It means a lot to have the RJ service available to me. It was 8 years since my boyfriend was murdered, but it felt like the right time to speak about it.
“It has been a massive weight taken off my shoulders so far, and it's making me feel better, that I have a way to communicate my feelings and thoughts. With the help of the RJ service, I feel more confident and positive”.
James* is in prison for assault. Since it happened, he has wanted to face his victim and apologise. His actions were completely out of character and his thoughts still return to what went wrong and how things could have been different. On being offered the opportunity to take part in restorative justice he said:
“I’m hoping I can answer some of the victim’s questions and take away some of the stress and anguish he must have felt. I want to apologise; even if he doesn’t accept it, that’s up to him, but at least I have had an opportunity to offer that.
“For me, it’s my opportunity to understand further what happened, to get some closure and understanding, then mark this chapter off. Without restorative justice, this would never happen and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on where I go next; this is the only avenue I have been able to work with to get those answers.”
Having been through the restorative justice process, James is now an advocate for other prisoners who wish to make positive changes to their lives.
“It has forced me to think a lot deeper about the reasons for why I did what I did, and given me a sense of hope. It means I won’t bury it away and not think about it. I spoke to some of the others about what I am doing and they said I was crazy – but when I explained what it was about and my reasons why, they understood and said it makes sense.”
In Norfolk and Suffolk, victims and offenders going through the restorative justice (RJ) process are supported by a team of specialists, including RJ advisors working for the restorative justice service and local RJ practitioners, which include trained police officers.
While the way the service works has had to change due to Covid restrictions, the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice team is continuing to support communication between victims and offenders by telephone, video call and Covid-secure face-to-face interactions where appropriate.
They are also working on new training packages for police officers and restorative justice volunteers to raise awareness of the service and ensure it remains an available option for victims of crime, and their offenders, in coping and recovering from the impact of crime.
Sergeant Simon Wallace from the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service said: “Restorative justice can take place at any time in a victim’s recovery journey and is tailored to those involved to ensure the process is safe for all.
“We can facilitate direct communication in the form of a conversation between the parties involved or indirect communication such as letters or impact statements, questions and explanations being shared. Trained facilitators can use phone or video calling if appropriate.
“Restorative justice empowers victims by giving them a voice in deciding what is right and appropriate for them – outcomes the traditional justice system often doesn’t give them.
“When done right, restorative justice can also significantly reduce reoffending - even for career criminals, when confronted with the human cost of their criminal behaviour.”
Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Lorne Green, said: “Crime affects different people in different ways and, as such, people’s coping mechanisms, what they need in order to recover from what they’ve experienced and what they perceive as ‘justice’ can be very different too.
“That’s the real strength of the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service - putting victims’ needs and wishes at the heart of what it does, while also encouraging offenders to take a good look at their actions and make changes for the better.”
Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, said: “I am proud to co-commission the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice service with the Norfolk PCC’s office.
“As PCC, I have a key role in ensuring services are in place which recognise the harm caused by crime and enable victims to cope with and recover from their experiences and get the support they need.
“Restorative Justice is a completely voluntary process which enables victims to receive the support to cope and recover from the harm that has been caused by the crime they have suffered and offenders to understand the harm they have caused. It isn’t appropriate in every case but, when it is used, it really can make a significant difference both to the victim and the offender and that’s why I am a great advocate of the service.
“International RJ week provides the opportunity to remind people that this important service is in place and I would encourage anyone who feels they could benefit from this service to find out more and take advantage of what is available.”
T/Assistant Chief Constable Julie Wvendth of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Justice Services Command said: “Restorative Justice is a process that increases victim satisfaction and gives those who are harmed by criminal actions the opportunity to redress the power balance and provide closure.
The process also enables offenders to understand how their actions impacted upon the victim and can also reduce reoffending.
We are really pleased to support International Restorative Justice Week and highlight some of the vital work undertaken by the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service to improve victim confidence.”
*Names have been changed for anonymity.
To find out more about restorative justice and how to access the Norfolk and Suffolk Restorative Justice Service, follow the hashtag #RJweek on social media or visit: https://www.norfolk.police.uk/advice/victims-witnesses/restorative-justice