Does BBC’s ‘Time’ do Restorative Justice… justice?
A blog by Morgan Henderson – Communications Officer at Why me?
Filmed in decommissioned HMP Shrewsbury, the BBC’s latest drama, Time, exposes some of the tough everyday realities faced by inmates and staff in British prisons. The three part drama captures the mental health crisis in prisons, staff corruption, and violence faced by prisoners – giving the public a window to a world which is hidden from view.
Restorative Justice is also explored throughout the series, both in the form of a face to face Restorative conference, and in letter writing. One depiction of Restorative Justice is particularly powerful and features a conference between a prisoner (Daniel) and the parents of the young man (Gerard) who he killed in a fight.
The scene is hard to watch. During the conference Daniel, who was initially reluctant to take part, explains that he has attended in order to say sorry and, after prompting, that he would like forgiveness. As Daniel talks about the events that led to their son’s death, Gerard’s parents have their questions about the incident answered and deem his actions “unforgivable”. The scene ends with Daniel wiping away tears. This is the last time we see Daniel participate in what would potentially be a positive intervention. Later in the series, he starts taking drugs, a habit he only started whilst in prison.
The representation of Restorative Justice here cannot easily be forgotten. The pain and significance of the interaction for both parties sends shivers down your spine. It is clear to viewers that for the parents this was an important opportunity to understand the events that lead to their son’s death and ask ‘why?’. Time does well to capture the creation of a safe space which is inherent to any Restorative Justice conference, as both parties speak openly without interruption and have their voices heard. The scene also sheds light on some important aspects of a Restorative Justice conference, such as the presence of the restorative facilitators, and the open ended questions they ask (although some of the details of the way that the facilitators behave are not quite accurate, some creative license on TV seems reasonable).
However, there were also some important ways that Time’s portrayal of Restorative Justice missed the mark. A critical part of any restorative process is managing expectations of the participants, especially when working with people affected by such a serious crime. The facilitators would communicate with both parties in advance to ensure that, as much as possible, there are no surprises in the session. It was clear that preparation and expectation management hadn’t happened in the scene shown in Time. Gerard’s mother was surprised to hear that Daniel’s motivation for the crime was saving face, rather than anger or jealousy, and said that she couldn’t forgive this. In a well-managed restorative process, steps would be taken to avoid the mother of a murdered man being surprised in this way. Moreover, in a realistic scenario, Daniel’s wish for forgiveness would have been explored far earlier in the process. The facilitator would have spoken to both parties about this in advance, and warned Daniel that the parents of the victim were not willing to forgive him. They would also have explored how Daniel would feel in this instance, and conducted a proper risk assessment. If the facilitator had felt that Daniel would not be able to cope with not being forgiven, they may not have gone ahead with the face to face conference.
Support from facilitators would continue after the meeting takes place, with them checking in on both parties to hear their thoughts and feelings about the intervention and how it went. In Time’s depiction, Daniel seemed to be left unsupported after the conference, and his mental health appeared to deteriorate in the following episode.
It also would have been positive if Time’s narrative had followed up on the feelings of Gerard’s parents after the conference. Having their questions answered can be an incredibly powerful way for people to move forward from a crime. This is expressed time and time again by Why me?’s ambassadors, many of whom have been through a restorative process after being affected by the most serious crimes. In Time Gerard’s parents are shown to have their questions answered, but viewers do not see anything further about how this may have helped them to achieve closure.
Time is a really engaging series, which sheds light on so many troubling aspects of the justice system. The BBC and writers of the show should be commended for this, and for their inclusion of Restorative Justice in the series. While Restorative Justice was presented in a positive light overall, it would have been better if the show had avoided misrepresenting important parts of the process in this way, as we would not want anyone to be put off Restorative Justice because of dramatised misconceptions.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, or are interested in accessing Restorative Justice yourself, you can get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org