If you were the victim of a crime would you want to be able look the person who caused you harm in the eye and ask 'Why me?'
Eighty percent of the public believe victims of crime should have the right to meet their offender - according to poll carried out by IPSOS MORI on behalf of the Restorative Justice Council - and among people who had been a victim of crime; this figure rises to 85%.
Restorative justice is the bringing together of the victim and offender in a face-to-face meeting or sometimes in a written exchange all with the support of an experienced trained facilitator. Burglars have met home owners, rapists have met those they assaulted and murders have looked into the eyes of the parents of their victim - it is a powerful experience.
The victim and the offender must be willing to participate. Not all victims will want to take up the offer and it isn't appropriate in all cases, but when it takes place it can empower the victim and rehabilitate the offender.
A willingness to forgive the offender it is not a precondition and a lot of participants do not forgive and never intended to - it can be about getting answers and enabling the offender to understand the impact of their actions.
Will Riley, founder of Why me?, was the victim of an attempted burglary at his home; he confronted the intruder, a fight ensued, and Will handed the man over to the police. The burglar was Peter Woolf, a known career criminal, who has convicted and sent to prison for the crime. The two men met again in a restorative justice meeting.
Will challenged Peter, got some answers and found he could open his front door without fear. Following the meeting Peter went 'straight' after years of crime, meaning that more people did not become victims. It was this experience that led Will to begin campaigning for greater access to restorative justice and to set up Why me? in 2009.
The Victims' Commissioner Baroness Helen Newlove published a review into restorative justice in late 2016; she found:
"The Victims' Code clearly states that the victim is entitled to receive information on RJ from the police or other organisation that delivers RJ services in the victims' area, so they can make an informed choice about whether to participate in RJ. Despite this, only a small percentage of victims recall being offered RJ."
Police and Crime Commissioners are the prime funders of victim initiated restorative justice in England and Wales. Why me? has produced a Report called Valuing Victims mapping the restorative justice provision offered across England and Wales. It reveals that whilst there is some great proactive restorative justice work being undertaken there are significant variations in spending between individual Police and Crime Commissioners.
In 2013 funding of £23m was made available by the coalition government for the funding of victims services for the next three years. The restorative element of the funding was not ring fenced and this has resulted in huge variance in the availability across England Wales.
A report into restorative justice published by the House of Commons Justice Select Committee found "Clear evidence that restorative justice can provide value for money by both reducing reoffending rates and providing tangible benefits to victims."
I have seen first-hand how empowering restorative justice can be in giving the victim a voice and the chance to ask questions and helping address the harm caused. Restorative justice is not a soft option and does not lead to offenders escaping punishment.
One victim described her meeting with the first-time offender who had burgled her home;
"He said sorry to me and I think it was a genuine apology. He said he was glad he had a chance to do it in person.
"I said to him that I wanted him to promise me that he'd never do it again to anyone else - that was how he could make it up to me.
"He agreed with that. I was really grateful to have had the opportunity to say it to his face."
Feedback from other victims has included "I was so glad we met him. It's taken away all the mystery and given us back our confidence" and "We left the prison feeling like a weight had come off our shoulders."
It's time for all Police and Crime Commissioners to demonstrate that they take the impact of crime seriously by meeting the requirements of the Victims' Code and offering all victims access to restorative justice.
If you would like to find out more please visit www.why-me.org or get in touch by email email@example.com or phone on 020 3096 7708.
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