Project Articulate – Insights from Roundtable on 24th March 2022
This is a blog by our Restorative Justice Development Officer Sula Blankenberg.
People with English as an Additional Language (EAL) may find it difficult to access Restorative Justice. In addition to language, complex terminology, cultural differences, and a lack of trust are also barriers to accessing services in the justice system.
On 24 March 2022, Why me? hosted our second Project Articulate roundtable event. The event aimed to better understand how cultural differences affect how people with EAL receive information on Restorative Justice as well as access, participate in and take ownership of the restorative process. Attendees, including academics, RJ practitioners, EAL professionals, and community representatives from organisations across the country, came together to share their experiences and potential solutions.
The event identified five main themes and a commitment to address them through supporting training and community initiatives.
In England and Wales, information on Restorative Justice is often only accessible in English, which is a huge challenge for non-English speakers. In addition, the complex and technical terminology used throughout the Criminal Justice System is especially difficult for people with EAL to understand. Due to a lack of language diversity amongst staff in restorative services, interpreters and family or community members are often looked at to translate. Furthermore, service users are often referred to other agencies that could potentially better support their language needs. However, this can easily lead to service users falling through the cracks and feeling that Restorative Justice is ‘not for them’. As practitioners, we need to discuss how we can ensure better support for service users, their families, and the wider community so that they can access services like Restorative Justice and feel supported throughout the process.
Concepts and terminology cannot always be “translated” wholesale to other languages and cultures. Even the term “restorative” cannot directly be translated into some languages. Concepts that might be used in a restorative context, such as shame and embarrassment might be felt and experienced differently in other cultures, and therefore might be understood in many different ways in a restorative setting. Non-verbal communication such as body language and eye contact could be subject to misinterpretation due to cultural differences and may create or worsen conflict if it is not managed or addressed. As practitioners, having an understanding of cultural differences is really important to better support and facilitate communication, not only between the participants in the process, but also between facilitators and participants. This can be achieved through cultural awareness training for restorative practitioners and the involvement of cultural translators and community interpreters in the restorative process, all working together to support the needs of the parties involved.
For many minoritised groups, a sense of community is key. They may often feel discriminated against which leads to problems in building trust and a sense of belonging. Trust in the restorative practitioner is an essential aspect of the restorative process. This trust can be achieved from a sense of familiarity and likeness that is shared when people speak the same language or share cultural similarities. For this reason, it is important to have more practitioners that represent the communities they serve and whom they can identify with. Community advocates are an important part of the restorative process as they have the ability to create feelings of safety and belonging for the people that trust them. In addition, if they are from a similar background and speaking the same language, community advocates can act as cultural translators for service users and practitioners, ensuring that cultural differences do not get lost in transition.
Right One of the Victims’ Code of Practice gives victims of crime the right to be able to understand and to be understood. The lack of available information and resources about Restorative Justice in different languages prevents people with EAL from knowing about what Restorative Justice is, what it entails and what their entitlements are under the Victims’ Code. Services also need to be aware of and address different levels of digital literacy and digital poverty when contacting people with EAL about Restorative Justice.
It is important that we take steps to understand and assess cultural needs to ensure that we ourselves are not creating barriers to Restorative Justice. Cultural awareness training is imperative in order to remove these barriers and lead to more restorative ways of communication.
We will be continuing our conversations about increasing access to Restorative Justice for people with EAL at our Why me? Annual Conference 2022: Promoting Equality in Restorative Justice on the 25th of May in central London.
Thank you to all of those that spoke to me and attended the roundtable event. As part of Project Articulate I will continue to speak with different professionals and people with EAL to get a better understanding of the barriers that they face, ensuring that steps are taken to improve service design and delivery. If this is related to the work you do or the experiences you’ve had, please do get in touch. Visit the Project Articulate page to find out more about providing Restorative Justice to people with English as an Additional language or contact the Project Manager at email@example.com.