Imagine someone has broken into your home. You feel they have invaded your personal space. You may no longer feel safe in your own home; no longer keep any of the windows open, not even on the hottest of nights. For a while after, you might even sleep with the lights on. Then one day, you are approached and asked whether you would like to confront the person who committed the crime. What would you say?
Well, this is an option we offer some victims. Amazingly, many feel empowered because restorative justice gives them a voice. It can help them feel less fearful and give them answers so they can move on. For the person who caused the harm, it’s also a chance for them to take responsibility for what they have done and to make amends – something that can make them less likely to reoffend again.
But it doesn’t always mean meeting face-to-face. It can be an exchange of letters between the victim and the offender or a mediator who exchanges messages between the two.
But is it an effective way of responding to crime?
Some people may believe that restorative justice is a way of letting offenders off by simply saying sorry to their victims, but with restorative justice, there is no expectation of a reduced sentence by participation. The offender doesn’t have to say sorry (although many do), and the victim doesn’t have to show forgiveness.
A seven-year University of Sheffield research programme, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice into restorative justice, found the frequency of reoffending reduced by 14% following participation. Victims also rate the process. In Wales, almost all of those who took part in restorative justice with our service (98.5%) would recommend it to someone else.
Potentially, criminal justice agencies can use restorative justice for any crime. It can help victims of low-level crime and people who have experienced the most serious offences. For some types of offences, it can be trickier, but it’s not impossible. The criteria is mainly that both the victim and the offender volunteer willing to take part.
In Wales, our highly trained practitioners identify the suitability of individuals through a thorough risk assessment. They make sure it is the best solution for both the victim and the person who caused the harm, and both are entering into it voluntarily – no one can be coerced or forced into taking part.
For some, it is not necessarily an alternative to sending someone to prison or giving them other sentencing options, but, depending on the type of behaviour or offence, it can be a way of resolving the issue before sentencing or afterwards.
Research also shows the criminal justice system saves eight pounds for every pound they spend on restorative justice.
What our participants have to say
But what is more powerful perhaps is what the people we work with and the people they have harmed have to say:
“The conference has lifted a weight off our shoulders. We feel relieved of a lot of worry and stress.” (Victim of crime)
“I’m so glad I did it. I feel I’ve got back control again. The conference gave me an important release.” (Victim of crime)
“It’s reinforced that what I did was wrong. The conference made it real about the effect I had on another human being.” (Person who caused the harm)
“It was a real eye-opener. It gave me some closure so I can concentrate on my future and my family. I am glad I did it.” (Person who caused the harm)
If you would like to find out more about our restorative justice work, please contact us.