How to lose victims and alienate people? Ask them if they want to participate in Restorative Justice
As part of the Valuing Victims campaign 2017, Director Lucy Jaffé shares her reflections and experience in making RJ an option not just a tick box exercise. She reflects on feedback from the national survey and well-attended workshop which addresses the challenges about how to open up access to RJ for more victims.
For most individuals following a crime, their first thought is usually why me? Then the victim becomes more concerned with details – how did they get into my house? Was I a target? and so on. These questions and many others usually race through their mind as they try to rationalise what happened and deal with the uncertainty and emotions that emerge.
When a victim reports the crime to the Police, they may still be in shock and will be subject to a series of questions to help solve the crime and apprehend the perpetrators. Victim services will also offer the option of support and if the case goes to court Witness Support will also be in touch with the victim(s). If the case involves a serious crime, then there may well be health professionals, different services within the Police, lawyers and court officials working with and on behalf of victim. In all these external processes designed to serve justice, when is the right time for victims of crime to hear about RJ? And how should the option be framed? Is it one moment in time? How can RJ seem like a normal pathway to recovery?
Why me? was set up by a victim of crime with the aim of getting more victims access to RJ. As an organisation, we are highly concerned at the low number of victims who recall being offered RJ – 4.2% in the British Crime Survey in 2016. For that reason, we have focused the Valuing Victims 2017 campaign on the RJ victim offer. The Campaign surveyed all 43 Police and Crime Commissioners and in May 2017, we hosted a creative workshop in our London offices; bringing together top RJ Service delivery agencies from across the country in order to develop good ideas and identify good practice. The following issues were identified through the workshop.
1. Active not passive case identification to increase the ‘pool’ of victims
Jon Collins from the Restorative Justice Council encouraged attendees to work with the largest pool of cases possible, then to model the service around the local criminal justice process. In doing this there is increased opportunity to inform victims of crime about RJ option available to them. Workshop participants contributed practical examples about how to identify victims and how to share RJ process with victims. For example, Police forces extracting cases by crime type using vulnerability or serious harm index, RJ Services working collaboratively with a local Crown Court or working with Witness Service accessing daily court lists and anticipated guilty pleas.
2. Victims’ recovery pathway
When victim services are working with victims to support individuals following the crime, this provides the ideal opportunity to consider the restorative pathway for that victim. Listening out for questions victim may say or have made in a crime or victim impact statement, may lead to the conclusion that referring case and victim on to a “skilled “ RJ facilitator for home visit is the next step.
Participants were unanimous in agreeing that openly asking a victim if they would consider RJ is NOT the best approach, both in supporting the needs of the victim or explaining the process. Instead it is important that a referral is made to a skilled facilitator who has the skills, confidence and knowledge to build a relationship with the victim and assess if RJ is the right option.
I think a trained facilitator is the best way to start the RJ conversation with a victim.
Michael Fajobi (Restore:London RJ Coordinator)
3. Equipping frontline victim workers and RJ staff
All services working with victims are under such huge pressure, particularly when aiming to meet rights in the Victims’ Code 2015, that RJ can feel like an added extra. Our survey with PCC offices highlighted many Police areas use a crime leaflet to inform victims of the RJ service availability, thereby discharging the victim code requirement, but the effectiveness of this approach was questioned at the workshop. Is it the right time for a victim to consider this as a need when they are reporting the crime? In most cases the offender hasn’t been identified.
The workshop discussed ways in which we can support professionals who have the initial contact with victims, such as front-line Police Officers and victim services. Each need to be confident in introducing RJ as an option and know when to refer the victim of the local RJ provider. We will be including case studies of good practice in our June report.
What happens next?
In June we will publish an online practitioners guide including case studies from across the country. If you would like to be added to the email distribution list contact Alicia Edmund