Restorative Justice allows people harmed by a crime to communicate with the perpetrator, often with the aim of a face to face meeting.
This gives them the chance to ask questions about the incident. They can explain how it has impacted them and seek assurance that the person responsible won’t do something similar again. This is what many people affected by crime want, which is why 85% of victims who go through Restorative Justice are satisfied with the experience. Restorative Justice also leads to a significant drop in re-offending, as it helps people who have committed crimes to recognise the harm they have caused. Restorative practice can also be used to address non-criminal harm.
Here are stories from people who have had their lives changed by Restorative Justice, who are now ambassadors for Why me?.
This short film is based on a real Restorative Justice meeting. One woman talks about the impact on her life of being burgled and the other talks about the reasons why she did it. Please note that this is a verbatim re-enactment of a Restorative Justice conference, but that the people in the film are actors.
A Restorative Justice conference only goes ahead with both parties’ consent. It is mediated by a trained facilitator, who speaks to both parties in advance, and only organises a meeting if it safe to do so. A face-to-face meeting can bring the greatest benefits, but indirect communication, such as by phone or video shuttle can also be arranged if appropriate.
Restorative Justice runs alongside the criminal justice process. It can be used alongside any other outcome, ranging from an out of court disposal to a long prison sentence if required.
A trained Restorative Justice facilitator meets both parties before arranging a meeting. Alternatively, the participants may prefer to communicate indirectly, or not to go ahead with the process at all.
Here are the steps which traditionally take place in a restorative process.
1. Deciding you want Restorative Justice
Either the victim of crime or the perpetrator can ask for Restorative Justice. If a case is going through court, a restorative process won’t be able to progress until after this process has concluded. Otherwise, it can happen at any time.
The person harmed by the incident should be informed about Restorative Justice by the police, victim services, the youth offending team or another point of contact. They may then be offered Restorative Justice by the police Restorative Justice service operating in their area. Alternatively, they can get in touch with Why me?, who may be able to facilitate their case.
2. First steps
The first step of a restorative process is to have an initial meeting with a restorative practitioner. This allows the harmed person to talk about the impact of the crime, what they are thinking and feeling now, and what they want to happen next.
Both parties need to consent for Restorative Justice to take place, so the facilitator will also be in touch with the perpetrator to ask if they wanted to take part.
If both parties agree to take part in Restorative Justice, the facilitator will prepare them for a meeting (often known as a Restorative Justice Conference). The facilitator meets with both parties separately to discuss what they may want to say to each other, and what their feelings are about the incident now.
These meetings will continue until participants are fully prepared for the Restorative Justice Conference. If the facilitator is satisfied that it is safe for the meeting to go ahead, and that both the victim and perpetrator are ready to proceed they will arrange a date for the Conference
4. The meeting
The Restorative Justice Conference is a meeting between the person who was harmed and the perpetrator, along with two trained Restorative Justice facilitators. Both parties can also have supporters present, such as a friend who was also affected by the crime, or a support worker.
All of those present sit in a circle, with the facilitator sat between the victim of crime and the perpetrator.
The lead facilitator starts by setting the ground rules, which include no interrupting, and anyone being able to take a break or stop the process at any time. The facilitator will then ask the person who committed the crime questions such as: “can you tell me what happened”, “how did you feel at the time” and “who was affected by the incident?”
The facilitator then asks similar questions to the person affected by the crime, and to the other people in the room. This will help to facilitate a dialogue about the incident and the impact that it had. If appropriate, the facilitator will help the participants to produce an outcome agreement. This lays out what steps the perpetrator could take to put things right, or address the harm they have caused.
As always in a restorative process, everything in the outcome agreement will need to be agreed by both parties.
In the days following the Conference, the facilitator will speak to both parties to see how they feel, and check that they got what they wanted out of the process.
6. Other ways to do Restorative Justice
The greatest potential benefit is often gained from a face to face meeting. But if this is not practical or desirable to one party, other restorative conversations may still be able to take place. The two parties may exchange restorative letters, or send messages by video shuttle. Restorative Justice can sometimes take place with a proxy in place of the victim or offender, if one person does not want to take part. Restorative Justice can be flexible to fit the needs of the people participating.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Restorative Justice, and victims understandably want to know all of the information before taking part. This tackles some of the most common questions which victims have about the process.
We have resources which you can watch and purchase if you are interested in Restorative Justice. These include DVDs about the process, a reenactment video, and the Woolf Within – a video about Peter and Will’s Restorative Justice meeting which led to the creation of Why me? We can also sell copies of Peter Woolf’s book: The Damage Done.