‘I knew what I needed to heal’: Report calls for improved access to RJ for victims and offenders
This is a blog by Ken Sutton, Secretary to the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners.
A report by the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners that was released this week made a renewed case for improved access to Restorative Justice for both victims and prisoners.
The report, titled ‘Making Sense of Sentencing; Doing Justice to both Victims and Prisoners’, found that the current provision of Restorative Justice was ‘patchy and under-resourced’, despite evidence showing just how beneficial Restorative Justice can be for victims and their families.
We believe that restorative justice approaches, properly defined and designed, ought to be more prominent in the delivery of a sentence. They can promote victim participation and satisfaction, while signalling to long-sentenced prisoners that their harmful past conduct generates corresponding moral obligations.
The report’s author, Bishop James Jones made eight detailed recommendations in the report, including improved access to Restorative Justice for both victims and prisoners.
About the Commission
The Independent Commission was chaired by Bishop James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool. Bishop James previously chaired the Hillsborough Independent Panel and his follow up Report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, proposes changes to help victims of those affected by public tragedy.
The aim of the Commission was to consider long term sentences and how they should be changed.
I was shocked to my core that the professional’s anger was aimed at me for wanting to do what I knew I needed to do to heal. Every time we tried to do restorative justice – the professionals got in the way. Not only they didn’t tell me about restorative justice; they tried to block me from getting it.
What the Commission did
Bishop James has learnt that the most compelling evidence for change comes from listening to those most affected by crime and public tragedy. So the Commission held a series of listening sessions with both victims and prisoners and applying what Bishop James calls a ‘bi-focal’ approach.
Why me? played a key role as part of the process. A listening session involving Why me? ambassadors proved so valuable that a second session was arranged, enabling the ambassadors to relay their experiences of the Criminal Justice System and, of course, Restorative Justice.
What the report says
The report provides a detailed analysis of trends in sentencing for serious crime and the impact of long sentences from the perspective of both victims and prisoners. It concludes that sentencing for serious offences has lost its way and is not working for victims, prisoners, or society as a whole.
The report’s main recommendation is for national debate on sentencing backed by a Law Commission review of the sentencing framework for serious offences, a citizen’s assembly on sentencing policy, and strengthening the remit of the Sentencing Council in promoting public understanding of sentencing.
It also makes eight detailed recommendations:
- Better information for victims of serious crime about the sentencing of offenders
- Proper enforcement of the existing entitlements of victims
- An entitlement for victims to be informed of prisoners’ progress in their prison sentence
- Improved access to Restorative Justice for both victims and prisoners
- An improvement in the content of long sentences – including effective provision of education, and training leading to rehabilitation
- Greater external scrutiny of arrangements for monitoring how sentences progress
- Improvements in the effectiveness of the parole system to ensure cases are considered promptly and unnecessary delays are avoided
- An end to the injustice faced by IPP prisoners who have been imprisoned with no idea when they will be released
The Commission’s Report acknowledges the help of three charities including Why me? with whom it had worked most closely and puts on record its gratitude to the ambassadors.
Editor’s note: Why me? supports the recommendation for improved access to Restorative Justice for both victims and prisoners. This blog is intended to inform our audience and does not necessarily reflect the views of Why me? We would like to thank our ambassadors who contributed to the report.