Restorative practice in its many forms has been criticised for being offender-centred in funding it has gained and in the approach of practitioners delivering services. Rather than it being victim-centred as much of the proponents describe the practice has been slanted to help offenders take responsibility for their behaviour and reduce reoffending. It is timely to challenge this perspective and look to the needs of victims of crime.
Over the past three decades, the victim movement worldwide has agitated for an enhanced role for victims in the criminal justice system. Despite some progress towards that goal, structural as well as political factors may mean that victims have won as much as they are likely to gain from conventional justice processing. But there is good evidence that restorative justice can offer them more justice than they receive from the formal court-based system. The evidence from the research into the impact of a restorative justice programme on victims of both property and violent crime, provides empirical evidence to show that the restorative alternative of conferencing more often than court-based solutions has the capacity to satisfy victims' expectations of achieving a meaningful role in the way their cases are dealt with as well as delivering restoration, especially emotional restoration, from the harm they have suffered.
Restorative Justice gives victims the chance to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and to receive an apology. It gives the offenders the chance to understand the real impact of what they've done and to do something to repair the harm. Restorative Justice holds offenders to account for what they have done, personally and directly, and helps victims to get on with their lives.
It has been shown to reduce post traumatic stress for victims - a key factor linked to heart disease. Benefits of this and more obvious reductions in violent crime would have for the NHS have yet to be quantified.
Research published by the Ministry of Justice shows that 85% of victims and 80% of offenders were satisfied with their experience of a Restorative Justice conference - a meeting between the victim and offender with supporters of each present.
The Report 'Restorative Justice: the views of victims and offenders' also showed that;
78% of victims who took part in RJ conferences said they would recommend it to other victims
90% of victims who took part in an RJ conference received an apology from the offender in their case; as compared with only 19% of victims in the control group
Only 6 victims, and 6 offenders, out of 152 offenders and 216 victims interviewed, were dissatisfied with the RJ conference after taking part
Around 80% of offenders who took part in the RJ conference thought it would lessen their likelihood of re-offending.
Victims who had been through a Restorative Justice conference were more likely to think the sentence the offender had received was fair, than victims in the control group who did not participate in RJ
This research compares with just 33% of victims who think the CJS meets their needs; and 41% of victims who think the CJS brings offenders to justice [British Crime Survey 04-05]
This English research tallies with research from around the world showing the extremely strong victim benefits from restorative justice; and that RJ can give offenders the insight and motivation to stop offending.
This research report is the third from Professor Joanna Shapland at Sheffield University. Her reports were commissioned by the Home Office to provide an independent evaluation of the Home Office Crime Reduction Programme Restorative Justice research projects. The first two reports, looking at how the schemes were set up, and at the RJ process itself, were published by the Home Office in 2004 and 2006, and can be found at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/rdsolr3204.pdf and http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs06/r274.pdf.
Many victims of serious crime remain suspicious about restorative approaches, thinking that it may involve issues such as forgiveness. There is a need to work through some of these perceptions as the reality is that through the process the victim remains in charge of what can happen and what they seek through any contact. There is a need to work with victims groups to gain their support in working restoratively. One group has started this process:
Why Me? is a new organisation which has been set up by, and for, victims of crime who have benefited from their experience of Restorative Justice. Their vision is that Restorative Justice should be available for all victims of crime who want it. Why me? campaigns for better treatment for all victims and for the criminal justice system to improve its service to them - firstname.lastname@example.org will contact them.