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Restorative Justice: Is the Message Getting Through?

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It's funny how you find out that you're winning the argument.

I was watching EastEnders when I realised attitudes towards restorative justice were really shifting.

The episode showed Kat Moon meeting Ronnie Mitchell - the woman who had stolen Kat's baby - at the prison gates.

It was an intense and dramatic scene ending with Kat inviting Ronnie to stay with her, despite her continuing anger at the crime.

For years we have been arguing that victims want more than just punishment for their offenders - they want them to stop committing crimes and to understand the impact of those crimes. In some cases, victims even want a face-to-face explanation from the criminal about why they committed the offence.

When these themes emerge in Albert Square I get the feeling the message is getting through.

In EastEnders, it was the victim driving the meeting - it was on Kat's terms and focused around her suffering as the victim.

For my charity, Victim Support, that is a crucial point.

Restorative justice must be focused around the victim and not simply a means of making offenders feel better about themselves. Only by listening to the victim and addressing their needs can a criminal truly understand the impact of their crime, and that in turn increases the chances of them not re-offending.

Done properly it can help victims and cut crime, so at Victim Support we have no hesitation in taking part in it.

With partners, we are already running schemes across the country with police and prisons and have plans to pilot more through crown courts later this year.

Just this week burglary victims in Gloucestershire spoke positively of meeting their offenders and telling them about the impact the break-ins had on them and, particularly, their children.

There will always be sceptics about restorative justice but I was also encouraged by the comments of BBC correspondent Tom Symonds last week.

He has written powerfully and passionately about meeting the man who robbed him at knifepoint, of wanting him to mend his ways and his mixed emotions.

Journalists are, quite rightly, by nature sceptical - so Tom's piece is a valuable contribution to the RJ debate.

Earlier this year I spent a day at HMP Grendon, where some of Britain's most dangerous killers and sex offenders confront their crimes and challenge each other's behaviours in group therapy

It must be the most humane prison on the planet - a mix of soft on the exterior and tough inside the offenders mind.

However, I suggested to inmates that some of the victims we support might view Grendon as a holiday camp.

They talked very convincingly about how its therapeutic approach was the toughest challenge they had ever faced - and I believed them.

For example, these prisoners, unlike any others I have ever met, introduced themselves by describing their crime and actually named their victims - all part of their self-realisation.

Restorative justice is likely to play a prominent role in the rehabilitation revolution which has gathered pace with £450million of contracts opened up for bids this week.

Our job is to make sure it has the biggest impact on offenders by being focused on the needs of victims.

Around the Web

Welcome / Restorative Justice Council

Restorative justice in the youth justice system - Ministry of Justice

Restorative justice action plan for the Criminal Justice System - Gov.uk

BBC News - Restorative justice sees violent offenders avoid court

offenders to meet their victims under plan to expand restorative justice

Restorative justice to be rolled out