THE BLOG
20/11/2013 08:16 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Actions and Consequences: How Restorative Justice Can Help Victims Move On

If you were a victim of crime, would you want to meet the offender?

What would you say to them?

A burglary victim might, for example, want to talk about the inconvenience, the hassle of sorting out the mess and replacing what has been stolen.

They could spell out that some things - just objects to an outsider - are completely irreplaceable, and how sentimental value outweighs any financial cost.

But we all know that actions have unintended consequences, and burglary isn't just about what's been taken, it's about what's been left behind too.

As so many victims tell my charity when they come to us for support, the real impact is far more profound, and traumatic, than material loss.

It's waking up in the night at the slightest noise and wondering, is there someone downstairs? Or the feeling of dread in the stomach as they turn the key in the door - could someone have broken in again?

Fear that lingers as they go about day-to-day life, long after windows and locks are repaired, and insurance claims filed.

Put simply, I doubt that any burglar really appreciates the sense of violation that comes from having your home and personal space so ruthlessly and thoughtlessly intruded upon.

If you're a victim, you might want to try and make that offender understand - in some small way - the real effect that their actions have had upon you and your family. It might help you move on, and it might help them not do it again.

That's why Victim Support believes well planned restorative justice (RJ) can be so beneficial for victims.

International Restorative Justice Week began on Monday with the Government announcing £29million extra funding, specifically to bolster and increase RJ provision across the UK.

It's is a welcome step forward.

As I've said before in this blog, of course victims want to see offenders punished for what they've done. But making sure they understand the consequences of their actions, is important to them too. And we know that RJ can be an effective way of breaking the cycle of reoffending.

Whether it is face to face conferencing, repairing damage, or reparation to the wider community through voluntary work, done properly, and led by what the victim wants and needs, RJ undoubtedly gives victims a more personal resolution to their case. It empowers them as decision-makers in a criminal justice system where they so often feel side-lined.

I'm very pleased that the new Victims Code for the first time gives victims the right to be informed about the RJ options open to them in their area.

Add to this the new funding for RJ that is being given to police and crime commissioners and charities, then we are seeing that a welcome change is now backed with money and has a real chance of improving outcomes on the ground.

To those who suggest RJ is a soft option, offenders who have had to face up to the consequences of their actions so directly, may disagree. I certainly think anything that challenges the attitudes of persistent criminals must be right.

Earlier this year I met murderers, rapists and armed robbers at a prison which did not just encourage them to face up to the crimes they had committed but specifically to the victims they had created.

The inmates at Grendon Prison were hardened veterans of the criminal justice system yet insisted, convincingly, that discussing their offences and feelings in group therapy was the toughest 'time' they had ever done.

At Victim Support, we will be playing our part to make sure this powerful and well-proven intervention has the victim, and repair of harm, as its focus - as all good RJ should have.

Some victims will, understandably, not want to go through RJ - as is their right.

We just think they should have the choice.