International RJ Week 2016: A time for reflection

Published: Friday, November 25th, 2016

Lucy Jaffé, Director at Why me?, takes the opportunity during International Restorative Justice (RJ) week to look back at the year and offers thoughts on how RJ should be measured as part of victim recovery. There is also news about a new promotional toolkit being launched ahead of RJ Week 2016.

Parliamentary Inquiry

The year has also been significant as the Justice Select Committee chose to run an Inquiry into RJ and made significant recommendations. It has been really useful and interesting to see the Committee taking views from RJ providers, key stakeholders and indeed victims. A lot of the practical issues regarding blockages that practitioners face were aired. Lucy explained,

Overall we felt the committee recommendations were well thought through. The Ministry of Justice response to the recommendations – published 8th November – sets out a Government commitment to support RJ but there is still no updated plan with specific detail or indeed a date when the plan will be available. We are firmly of the opinion that victims’ access to RJ could be better.

Accountability for the delivery of the Government vision of all victims having access to RJ services needs to be clear. For this reason, Why me? conducted desk research to find out how Police and Crime Commissioners were spending the RJ grant allocated to them. The resulting report highlighted gaps in the information available to assess the progress of RJ implementation nationally.

Given that a key part of the funding to support RJ comes from victims surcharge, we feel it important that victims, have access to information about services being commissioned to benefit them – surely it is part of the accountability process?“

Fully understanding the value of Restorative Justice to victims is essential, particularly as policymakers are faced with difficult choices to make regarding priorities, argues Lucy, It is critical that initiatives, including the use of RJ, are fully understood with respect to the outputs and outcomes they achieve.

The Justice Select Committee RJ report recommendation 14 identified the need to measure the outcomes of RJ work for victims and offenders.

Extract from Report – Recommendation 14 – It has been made clear to us that judging the effectiveness of a restorative justice programme simply by reference to the number of conferences held is a poor measurement and could encourage counter-productive incentives. We recommend the Ministry of Justice, with the Restorative Justice Council, publish and promote clear guidance for commissioners of restorative justice services of what constitutes a successful restorative justice scheme, including measurements relating to offenders and victims such as victim satisfaction. (Paragraph 56)

The MoJ response to the Justice Select Committee accepts that more needs to be done in this area and suggests work is already underway in the Ministry to develop an evidence base for the effective delivery of Restorative Justice services and the outcomes achieved by those services.

We await these result with great interest and hope we can add value to their thinking on this issue.

Cope & Recover agenda

Why me?’s experience of providing a RJ service suggests that every contact with victims is an opportunity to support their ability to cope and recover from the effects of the crime. Victims can benefit even when a meeting between the victim and offender does not take place. It is noteworthy that we do not seem to regard it as a significant contributor towards assisting victims to cope and recover – the suggested indicator to assess broader victim services – and yet a well-delivered Restorative Service can do so much to help victims to heal.

A recent example, where a victim of a serious assault was put in contact with Why me? following their inability to access local RJ services, highlights this. “The victim asked us to try and set up a restorative meeting with the offender as they had questions to ask “ said Louise Raven-Tiémélé, (Why me? RJ coordinator). Following meeting and listening to the victim, we eventually were able to speak to the offender who declined a request for a meeting. Once the victim actually had this response explained to them, they stated that at least now they could on with their life and rebuild following the harm caused. It was clear that this was a significant benefit to them rather than being unsure as to whether a meeting would indeed take place. The victim felt empowered again”

‘This victim valued the support of a trained RJ Coordinator and facilitators very highly” said Lucy. Certainly their final satisfaction level was high, however it may not tick the box in regard to a completed RJ case as no conference took place. We take the view that the restorative service starts from the very first contact and the response of practitioners and organisations to victims request for RJ is key”

Victim services, now the responsibility of Police and Crime Commissioners to deliver, are designed and assessed against the ability to support the cope and recover agenda for victims. “The use of Restorative Justice”, argues Lucy Jaffé “should be seen alongside these tools and valued accordingly”

Further work by Why me? Valuing Victims Campaign can be accessed via the link.

Together we can make a difference in how RJ is understood by others

One of the areas where Why me has been particularly successful is through the National Observer programme. Why me?, together with the Restorative Justice Council and the support of RJ agencies, such as Remedi, London CRC and Restorative Solutions, have run the Observer Programme in England and Wales since 2012. “ We believe taking political and senior criminal justice professionals in to witness Restorative Justice meetings remains a highly influential method of informing political opinion and policy change. Following a review of the programme with RJ practitioners, we recognised the opportunity to update the programme and provide an engagement toolkit for practitioners to use.”

The toolkit, accessible from the Why me? web site contains a mixture of case studies, draft policy guidelines, check lists, top tips, downloadable templates and web links to additional resources; the reader will be able to gain practical tips to assist practitioners engaging with stakeholders. The toolkit also references academic and research journals which may be of interest to other criminal justice professionals interested in learning more about RJ practice and process.

Lucy Jaffé says:

We have based this toolkit on our own experience and on the generous contributions from other RJ providers. It can only benefit victims to have people fully understand the way RJ works in practice. I look forward to 2017 with optimism that RJ will continue to be better understood by the public, victims of crime and decision-makers and that one day it will be truly available to all victims at all stages of the justice system.

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