This week I listened to a radio programme where the parents of a murdered teenager were talking about restorative justice and what an overwhelmingly positive experience it had been for them. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term it can best be summed up as an approach where the offender is encouraged to take responsibility for the crimes they have committed and accept the impact that their crimes have had. Trying to sum-up this important concept makes me slightly wary because it’s hard to articulate without sounding ‘touchy-feely’, and you can see why some elements of the media have interpreted it as a ‘soft-on-offenders’ approach.
Yet every time I hear about cases where this process was employed, everybody involved has claimed what a powerful tool it can be as part of rehabilitation (which many people involved in criminal justice would agree is somewhat lacking in the UK system). In the case of these parents it involved carefully planned and mediated meetings with one of the gang members who had killed their son. The gang member was serving a prison term but until he agreed to meet the parents he had never accepted responsibility for his actions. He claimed meeting with them was hardest thing he’d ever had to do and he almost refused to take part. The parents, naturally, also needed some persuasion to meet their son’s killer but found it a healing process and deeply beneficial. They received some insight into what happened when the crime took place and in this case said they were even able to forgive him and move on. (For more information on the restorative justice approach and impact see the Restorative Justice Council.)
Some time ago Principle Consulting worked with an organisation called Women’s Breakout who work with women in the criminal justice system or women who are at risk of offending. Although restorative justice was just a very small part of the amazing work they do (and I urge you to check out some of their facts and stats), it really made an impression on me and I often think about them and their work whenever restorative justice makes the news. At the point when we worked with them they were facing huge budget cuts while still being widely lauded for their important work – an all too common experience in the sector these days. Ken Clarke the former Justice Secretary was widely in favour of the restorative justice approach and some of the community alternatives to custody that Women’s Breakout and others advocate, but since the reshuffle last month he has been without a job. We’re yet to hear Chris Grayling’s opinions on the issue but I look forward to finding out.