This is Restorative Justice Week.
Each year at this time I try to meet people who have taken part in Restorative Justice (RJ) to ask them about their experiences. RJ is a voluntary scheme that brings together offenders and their victims. It is not an alternative to the criminal justice system but something that may help both parties in some way. The offenders I met last year spoke about the impact on them of hearing what they had put their victims through from the victims themselves. The victims spoke about having questions answered: why did they pick on me?
One offender said he was deeply moved by what his victim, whom he had burgled, had said. He had written to her, not expecting very much, but she had written back. Eventually they had met. She told him how frightened he had made her, starting with her coming home and finding the house had been broken into. That had continued to affect her, raising anxieties every time she subsequently went out: she feared what she might find on returning. The emotions she outlined had in turn made him think, perhaps for the first time, about how his actions had affected another person. He was so moved, he resolved to try to turn his life round and choose another path, determined not to re-offend. ‘She saved my life’, he said. In fact, he said this several times during our chat and with real feeling.
This year I spoke to two victims. They were both very impressive women. One – I’ll call her Jane – had come home to find a woman sitting on her doorstep, who said she was a diabetic and needed a drink. She forced her way into the house. Jane was very anxious – ‘my heart was racing’ – as the woman proceeded to threaten her with a knife and steal her money, purse and phone. She realised that the woman was desperate for money to satisfy her need for drugs.
She was quickly caught by the police.
Jane was remarkably resilient. Although threatened and robbed and angry, she also felt sorry for the offender whose life, she realised, was being ruined by drugs. She resolved to follow the case through the criminal justice system. When the offender received five years for her crimes – a raft of charges from theft to assault – she was shocked: how would prison help her to make better choices in life? How would this help her get off drugs?
She wrote to the offender in prison and received a reply. Eventually, the RJ staff facilitated a meeting. The woman has come to accept that she must get proper treatment for her drug habit or she would be back inside again. She also knew how hard that would be. ‘I would like to support her in that’, Jane said, and Remedi, the organisation that provides RJ in South Yorkshire, will help her do it.
RJ is not for everyone. It is only possible where both victim and offender are willing to explore the possibilities together. It does not work in every case. But where there are victims willing to take part – not necessarily with the same degree of selfless commitment as Jane – the human contact can prove very effective. And where it works, it helps both victim and offender.
The reason RJ works is because most human beings, even offenders, have some degree of emotional intelligence (EI). In other words, they can put themselves in the shoes of another person and feel what it is like to be them. What I think happens in a successful RJ encounter is that both parties are able to draw on that EI and grow their capacity to feel as the other person feels. So when a victim speaks honestly and spells out just how they felt when their small corner shop was broken into or their grannie’s wedding ring was stolen, an emotional connection can be made. This must be one of the most powerful means we have for changing the behaviour of another person.
I see now why when I was burgled in Birmingham many years ago, the burglar turned all the photographs of my family face down on a side table. He didn’t want to think about the human beings that lived there. He wanted his burglary to be an unemotional and purely mechanical affair. He had a smidgeon of EI.
Thanks to your responses to last week’s blog, I now know the answer. E-scooters are everywhere in South Yorkshire and are becoming annoying if not a menace. They are being ridden recklessly and at speed. Several of you pointed out that we may see a big boost in numbers at Christmas. I think this is something that will need to be taken up nationally.
Stop and Search
S&S is controversial. Some want to see more of it because it yields results – weapons and drugs are found – at least in about 20% of searches. I have had mothers and grandmothers, sisters and girlfriends, say they want it to continue in their community because they are tired of seeing so many young male lives ruined by drugs and knives.
But others see it very differently. They know that there are some communities whose young men are disproportionately stopped and searched and this leads to a breakdown in trust between the police and some young people and can lead to tensions within the community itself.
The power needs to be used proportionately and carefully by the police – which is why they are seeking help. They hope to expand the number of scrutiny panels they have to help them assess the policy and how it impacts on individuals and communities. The panels look at body worn video clips and consider complaints and feedback. If you think you might be interested in joining such a panel – they are held in each district of South Yorkshire – please contact Chief Inspector Sarah Gilmour via email: [email protected]
Stay safe and well