Restorative Justice is an initiative that brings those harmed by crime and the offenders who committed the crime into communication. The aim is to allow everyone affected by the offence to play a part in repairing the harm and reaching a positive way forward.
The victim gets the chance to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions, and to receive an apology.
Restorative Justice holds offenders to account for what they have done, helps them understand the impact of their actions, lets them take responsibility and begin to make amends.
Working alongside the police, Victim Support and the Restorative Justice Council, Cheshire & Greater Manchester CRC is delivering an increasing number of successful Restorative Justice meetings between victims and their offenders. These have included face to face conferences and the provision of information to victims from offenders – giving them answers to their questions.
We support Restorative Justice because:
- victim satisfaction rates for those that have gone through RJ are in excess of 80 per cent
- a range of studies have shown clear links between offenders going through the RJ process and reduced re-offending
- it’s an opportunity to help rebalance the Criminal Justice System in favour of victims
- Ministry of Justice research shows it has resulted in a 14 per cent reduction in offending
Below are two case studies that show Restorative Justice in action. One focuses on Stuart, a man who met with the family of a person he murdered and talks about the profound impact the event had upon him. The second focuses on Alana, who met a burglar who broke into her house and stole her purse.
After meeting the relatives of the victim he murdered, Stuart made a heartfelt pledge to stay out of trouble.
Although the 42-year-old had already undergone a significant change while in jail, the Restorative Justice conference he attended in 2010 with three sisters of the man he killed had a profound impact upon him.
At the time of the offence, Stuart was a homeless alcoholic on the streets of London who had been on a downward spiral since he was aged just seven.
The murder occurred after the victim invited Stuart to drink with him in his house. He robbed and killed him.
Stuart believes the fact he has not reoffended is partly attributed to the support he has received from Bolton probation, which is part of the Greater Manchester Probation Trust, and which also helped facilitate the Restorative Justice conference.
He said: “It’s a cop out to say I had no chance in life, clearly I did have a rough start but my brother did okay and joined the army. I made my choices.
“During the trial I saw what impact my actions had had upon the victim’s relatives, and that was a real eye-opener.
“The murder didn’t just affect the victim’s family, I saw from the trial that the local community suffered. I gradually realised that I owed it to his memory to do my best.”
After the orphanage he was in closed, he was shuttled between children’s homes, foster parents, secure units and approved schools. Stuart committed his first offence when he was seven; by the time he was 15 he was in the grip of an alcohol addiction and had already wracked up imitation firearm offences, assault and robbery.
He said: “I was in denial for the first couple of years of my sentence, but a chaplain recommended for me to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and that was the best thing I ever did.
“With prison you get out of it what you put in, I was honest and I put everything in. It is like a microclimate of life outside, this country’s drug and alcohol culture thrive inside as well and it’s easy to become a part of it.
“AA helped a great deal. Meeting others who had hit rock bottom and talking about how they were trying to make amends is still a crucial support for me.”
While Stuart was on weekend leave from prison towards the end of his sentence, he was contacted via his probation officer Bernie Warburton and told the victim’s three sisters wanted to meet him in a Restorative Justice conference.
He said: “It was a shock, it was the last thing I expected. I knew that everyday they must have thought about it, and that they’d have questions and wondered about what had happened.
“If it’d been me, I certainly couldn’t have asked to see the person who murdered my brother – but I knew I couldn’t refuse them. I owed it to them and to the victim.”
The sisters and Stuart were both assessed and separately took part in training to ensure they were ready for the conference, which was attended by Bernie and Victim Support, and which was hosted at a neutral venue in Bolton.
Stuart said: “I was expecting a lot of anger. Initially there was an atmosphere. I answered all their questions as honestly as I could, I owed them that.
“The second half of the meeting I could sense a change in atmosphere. I certainly feel the sisters got a lot out of the process.
“They shook my hand at the end and made me promise to live a law-abiding life. Without a doubt that promise is very important to me.
“It was a very moving process. They told me about the impact the murder had on them. One of them had turned to alcohol and I could identify with that because I know what it entails.”
Stuart was jailed in 1994 and by the time he was released he had completed courses ranging from falconry to English and maths. He has written a play about human rights in China that was aired on BBC Radio and has won Koestler Awards for his poetry.
He said: “I’ve learned that you have to be truthful. Having an offender manager who was willing to sit down and discuss everything with me, and who started that engagement two years before my release, meant a lot to me and has been extremely important.
“Without that help I would not have given myself much of a chance, released into the climate of a European recession – certainly reoffending is the easiest route.
“Ms Warburton told me for our relationship to work there had to be transparency. Initially I had weekly appointments, but I’ve always known her door is open.
“She put me in touch with a range of organisations such as ADS that have helped get me involved in the community and kept me active.
“I’ve never viewed probation as a hindrance, for me it’s been a great aid and a great help – and that includes everyone from the receptionists at Bolton through to all the probation officers I’ve seen.”
Bernie praised Stuart for the progress he had made and said meeting him prior to his parole hearing helped establish a good rapport that subsequently has paid dividends.
She added: “The Restorative Justice conference was the most emotional event I have taken part in during my career, it was clear the promise Stuart made really meant something. The conference visibly showed me how Stuart’s empathy has developed.
“As with anyone completing a life sentence, reintegration into the community is tough. By meeting him early I got to know him, know how he presents and therefore I had a means of measuring him.
“I’ve always involved him in supervision and in identifying what his risks are and got him involved every step of the way.
“He really has turned his life around.”
Alana is one of a growing number of people from across Greater Manchester to have taken part in a restorative justice conference after having fallen victim to crime.
Bolton probation has four members of staff trained in organising the meetings, which involve the victim and offender meeting to discuss the crime’s impact.
The conference only takes place after all parties have agreed to participate and have been properly prepared by a trained facilitator.
Alana, who is a pensioner from Bolton, had her purse stolen by a burglar who pinched it from her kitchen. It included a gift from her granddaughter of a silver heart necklace which was of great sentimental value.
She said: “It felt personal. I had quite a lot of mixed emotions because he had come into my house.
“Initially I felt bewildered, ‘where is my purse?’, ‘has my husband shifted it?’, ‘did we lock the door?’ and you start doubting yourself.
“I called the police and I got panicky thinking about my credit cards having been stolen.”
The police interview made Alana feel worse. Finger prints were found and later her purse – which had been emptied – was recovered from a dog foul bin.
She said: “We were both worried about not having locked the door, but I also felt damn lucky that I hadn’t disturbed the burglar. What if he’d have been 6ft 6in and carrying a weapon?
“For quite sometime after, we both checked the doors were locked time and again because we were worried.”
The offender was caught and initially denied the crime, so Alana and her husband had to prepare themselves for the stress of the case going to trial.
He changed his plea and was jailed for a number of offences. It was then that probation officer Dave Ankers and police office Joe Gallagher visited Alana to ask if she wished to take part in a restorative justice conference.
She said: “I wanted to know his motivation for taking part, whether or not he was doing it to get his sentence lowered.
“Once I found it was sincere, I wanted to do it because I thought it might give him the chance to get his act together. I felt I ought to do it for him.”
Alana was briefed and a date was arranged for her and her son-in-law to visit the offender at Forest Bank prison.
She said: “I was nervous, I’ve never been to a prison and they are intimidating.”
The offender explained that he had waited in her garden, had seen Alana unlock the door and then go to draw the blinds, and had opened the back door to snatch the purse.
Alana said: “I told him I felt violated, shocked. I told him about the silver heart in my purse and how I’d told my granddaughter that I always carried her heart around with me, and that it being stolen upset me more than the money.
“That made him cry, I was surprised and felt some sympathy for him.
“We had a good chat. I told him when he came out he had to get his act together and that it wouldn’t be a bed of roses for him, so asked him how he planned to get a job.”
The offender told Alana he had been thrown out of his home by his parents the night before the offence and was cold, tired and hungry when he stole the purse.
Alana said: “He told me he had two little boys. I told him I hadn’t come to upset him, but wanted him to sort himself out so he could set his children a good example -otherwise they’d end up in jail too.
“He apologised, and promised me it was a genuine apology – so I told him that I forgave him.”
Six restorative justice conferences have taken place in Bolton this year, and more are planned.
Dave said: “I pride myself on being able to get the offender to appreciate the affect their crime has on the victim, but nothing I do can replicate what Alana achieved during her meeting.
“I have worked with the offender before, I know his tears were genuine. With hope, the conference will have helped him understand the impact crime can have and to address his behaviour so that he doesn’t re-offend.
“It also helped Alana address the questions she had. She had been worried about whether it had been their fault for leaving the door open and also worried about whether the offender could have attacked her.
“The fact the conference put her mind at rest as well as gave the offender added motivation illustrates just how effective it was.”