Successful RJ – the views of service providers
What does successful RJ look like? Charlotte Calkin, Why me?’s facilitator-in-residence attempted to answer this in her previous blog entry. She asked Becci Seaborne of the Thames Valley Restorative Service and Steve Jones of REMEDI in Sheffield for their contributions. Here their submissions are reproduced in full. Please note that their views are their own.
What is successful Restorative Justice? – Becci Seaborne
I think the answer is that we still don’t know because we’ve spent so much time dealing with offender initiated RJ in the criminal justice system that we’ve tended to focus on reconviction rates.
Successful RJ, really, is any process which puts the victim and offender into communication (in any direct or indirect way), which meets the needs of the victim, as expressed by then and enables them to move on from what has happened in a more positive way than before. We’d want to achieve the same with offenders too, but at the very least we’d not want to cause further harm or make things worse. We needs to develop much better ways of understanding what this might look like so we can begin to measure it in some way.
Also there is, permanently, in the RJ world a tension between whether we focus on the process or the outcome – there are lots of very interesting philosophical and ethical considerations with this.
My natural instinct is always to shy away from targets as I’ve heard of too many examples (in other fields, and mostly in health), where targets have had (sometimes unintended) adverse effects. However, I think we live in a world where it’s important to be accountable and if we’re spending public money or money gained through fundraising we have to be able to describe in fairly clear terms what that money is paying for.
At TVRJS we have set ourselves internal targets around numbers of conferences, but the way I dealt with this as a manager was to say if we don’t meet this target we’ll take a look at the cases – we’ll look at the ones that didn’t come to conference and examine the reasons, pick out themes, see if it’s linked to our practice or to something else. It wasn’t about penalising or performance managing practitioners if they didn’t meet a target. What we found on one occasion was that quite a few offender-initiated RJ cases didn’t go to conference despite the victims wishing to meet, because their partners did not want them to go ahead. This was an incredibly useful exercise as it enabled us to understand the wider dynamics affecting outcomes for victims and offenders. We are now developing literature focused on information for family members and supporters to help them understand what their loved one might gain from RJ so they might feel able to be more supportive of the process.
So if you’re setting targets to help point you to areas of practice you need to explore more and understand better, then yes, great. But those targets should never interfere with a decision about how to progress a case, as clearly the needs of participants should be the driving factors. For me it’s essential to write into any service or service specification, or contract arrangements what the approach to statistics and targets is. I’ve always felt that numbers can be a useful signpost to what is going on, but that we shouldn’t stop there. Numbers tell us where we should be looking more closely at things to find out what is going on, not to say you’ve missed this target so there’s a penalty, but to see if anything can be done to improve things – sometimes it can’t, and that’s just how things worked out because that’s what the participants wanted, or other aspects of the case just fell a certain way. And that should always be alrtight as long as the affected parties have had their wishes respected and upheld. In any event targets and statistics should only ever be part of the story, and should be supported by relevant and good quality narrative, including qualitative analysis if possible, and case studies where relevant, to give a full picture of what is going on and being achieved.
What is successful Restorative Justice? Steve Jones
What quantifies/qualifies as successful RJ (moving away from it being quantified by desistance and number of conferences).
Successful RJ for me is relatively easy to identify. You know you’ve achieved a successful outcome if the people who should own the experience in the first place (victim/offender, harmed/harmer) say so. If participants express satisfaction with the process that should be the measure of success.
That of course can be quantified via an effective assessment process- how did the individual feel, what negative affects were they experiencing? before the ‘event’ or crime and how does the individual feel this has changed as a result of taking part in a restorative process?
For example we consider the 8 areas of need to identify, as a starting point, ‘where’ the victim is emotionally and physically prior to any intervention and assess this afterwards. This is achieved via self assessment.
Surely the person best placed to define something as having ‘worked’ is the beneficiary of whatever that thing is.
In regard to the ongoing direct/indirect RJ debate- this for me is the most frustrating issue in the restorative world. The starting point (which seems to have secured full statutory support and belief) is that conferences, face to face, direct RJ are very very good and letter exchanges, shuttle communication, indirect RJ is not only a ‘waste of time’ but also ‘a failure on the part of the restorative practitioner’ – both of these statements are quotes made directly to me by ‘restorative champions’ in the UK.
My response to this position-
What are you basing that on?
Better for who?
The problem is that this argument has taken centre stage and those advocating it have largely won the, never had, public debate to such an extent that directs/conferences now in the vast majority of statutory contracts (OPCC/Police/CRC etc etc) are the ONLY countable intervention and INDIRECT processes are entirely disregarded.
So why do I think the position is wrong? and it isn’t because, as has also been suggested, I want an ‘easy life’ because ‘after all conferences are harder’. I think the position is wrong because-
It is NOT RESTORATIVE. Victims and offenders (in the CJS context) must have the opportunity to make an informed choice as to how they wish to be involved. By all means explore direct options first but if the conclusion of that exploration is that a direct meeting isn’t possible then INDIRECT options should be considered.
If you claim to be VICTIM LED (another term I disagree with) and the victim, after consideration does not want to meet the offender but desperately wants the opportunity for questions to be answered or to simply know that their views have been passed to the offender- why on earth would you deny that opportunity? or why would you quantify that as irrelevant? unworthy of being counted as a restorative intervention?
For example in a recent death by dangerous driving case we facilitated we met Claire who’s 19 year old son had been killed as a result of a drink driver who had subsequently fled the scene. Our practitioner met with Claire over several meetings given her emotional state to discuss restorative options and to see if this was something Claire might receive from benefit from taking part in. After taking part INDIRECTLY (so none of that work [several hours] counts as part of the contract it was facilitated under) Claire said
“There was no way I think I could ever bring myself to meet him face to face. I can see why some people would but it wasn’t for me. I thought about it and Remedi gave me all the information and time I needed to make my mind up but it wasn’t for me. Instead I wrote a long letter explaining what a beautiful person inside and out my son was and the devastation our family has gone through losing him. It took me ages to write the letter, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and just doing that helped me so much as it allowed me to let out all I had inside of me. I also wanted to know what the offender thought now. He pleaded guilty in court and we never got the chance to know if he even had any regrets so I asked for a letter back.
I got the letter back a couple of weeks later and I was surprised at how much reading his words really helped me. I will never ever forgive him for what he did and I never want to see him again but I am happy that I took part in this and I cant praise the Remedi staff enough for how supportive and caring they were. Nothing will take away the pain of losing my baby boy but taking part in this has helped me cope with that loss more than anything else I have done. Thank you so much”
3. I suspect that the position where cases like the above are disgracefully disregarded is partly motivated by a complete and utter lack of understanding as to what INDIRECT processes actually are and how they should be delivered. I feel this is due to the never ending use of terms like ‘letter of apology’ and the fear that practitioners will abuse the process by just getting the offender to dash of an apology and thats that.
Let’s be honest – that practice has existed- I’ve seen it. I’ve seen practitioners claiming to be restorative who use pre printed ‘letters of apology’ which they just get the offender to sign and then pass on to the victim!- Appalling but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The answer is to address bad practice and ensure that quality INDIRECT services are facilitated.
I do not believe that there has been sufficient consultation with the sector regarding best practice in regard to identifying best practice for indirect restorative processes and that the conclusions drawn have been to frequently misinformed. Here’s an idea- lets be restorative, lets have a discussion, perhaps even a circle and let us really drill down into why we feel we believe what we believe. Perhaps we might all learn something and that can only benefit future service users.
The current state of play where the number of conferences is the measure of success is in my opinion dangerous and the greatest threat to RJ. Why? Firstly – because practitioners are cutting corners and side stepping risk assessments simply to chase an arbitrary target and secondly because volume does not necessarily equal quality, Macdonalds sell a lot of burgers but I wouldn’t necessarily define it as haute cuisine. That has to be wrong.