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Restorative Justice in Action: Valuing Offenders and Victims

Mark Creitzman, a project coordinator for the Enfield Youth Offending Team, describes programmes for both young offenders and victims.

For more information contact Mr. Creitzman at Mark.Creitzman@enfield.gov.uk.


Introduction 

I have found that there is a little confusion around the term ‘restorative’. Many people connected to the youth justice system think that it automatically means a conference involving both young offender and victim, with or without supporters.  So to define terms, ‘restorative approaches’ can be described as an umbrella term encompassing the ethos of working with both parties together or separately and opening lines of communication and understanding where they did not exist before. 

This is achieved in a number of ways, including face-to-face conferences or indirect mediation.  It can involve getting the young offender to think about the effects of his or her action on other individuals and the community as a whole, and looking at options for what he or she can do to repair the harm caused.  And it can lead to projects like the YPAC (Young Persons Affected by Crime) Centre, the advantages of which, for victims and the larger community, I hope to demonstrate below. 

Restorative Interventions with Young Offenders 

I am running a project at the Youth Offending Team in Enfield, North London, that takes referrals from a multi-agency team that includes the police, schools, probation, social workers, and other projects.  My role is manifold, but primarily involves working with young offenders on victim awareness programmes.  This is usually a four-part programme that covers the offender’s view of victims in general, the actual victim(s) of the case, offending behaviour and the impact of the crime on the offender and their families.  

The aim of this programme is to get the young person to reflect on their actions with a view to preventing further offending.  The victim and their thoughts and feelings are at the heart of this piece of work and I am always assessing the offender for the possibility of mediation, direct or indirect.  

My project also runs group work sessions, particularly for car crimes, where we have found it advantageous to use group dynamics to expand the experiences of each client.  We have a police officer who comes along every other session to explain some of the grizzlier and more realistic parts of the result of car crashes.  Interestingly, young people who commit car crimes rarely see themselves or, indeed, other road users, as potential victims. 

We consider that valuing the offender is an important part of the restorative ethos, and it can be achieved by including elements in their intervention package that will have some benefits to themselves, helping them to not re-offend, and thereby will have positive effects on the wider community. 

In many cases we would consider getting the offender to write a letter of apology, which gives them an opportunity to tell the victim things that they would not otherwise be able to do.  In the interests of the victim, we will always check that the victim agrees to receive a letter. 

Reparation to the victim or to the community plays a large part in the restorative approach to working with young offenders. We have different local schemes that provide activities to be completed by the young people and are a logical consequence to the crime wherever possible.  The reparation can be court-driven or it can come from a voluntary agreement in a conference or indirect mediation. 

Conferencing 

If we consider an offender to be appropriate for going to mediation, we may approach the victim to do a similar assessment and begin to look at the possibility of a conference. We have found it crucial to prepare the users as much as possible to enable them to make an informed decision on whether they want to take part. 

The conference should be only part of a much more involved piece of work that considers all people taking a role, not just the primary clients.  It is my view that there is no crime that could be considered impossible for mediation; each should be looked at on its own merits. 

Family Group Conferencing, for Young Offenders and Victims 

As well as the conferencing option, we also run family group conferences for individual families, particularly young offenders’ families.  We have had some success with working systemically, and we have found that a holistic approach, working with an entire family, has greater effect and longer-term benefits to all concerned.  

The reasons for this have been that once a whole family is on board and are willing to change their own situation, they can work as a unit to bring about the changes that they decide on.  It is important that the role of the facilitator remain as a non-advisory one; rather, it aims to get the users to reflect on their own situations and to open lines of communications within the family. 

This process is not limited to offenders and can also apply to victims of crime.  We always treat any conference as a starting point rather than a miracle cure and are sure to keep the expectations realistic.  We offer progress meetings or further meetings as necessary.  And we are mindful that victims and their families often feel as though they have been dropped after being contacted, so we maintain contact for as long as the victims need it, through projects such as the YPAC Centre. 

The YPAC Centre 

In Enfield, a new project based on restorative justice has been introduced, with benefits both for the users of the service as well as the community at large.  We first had the idea of a separate service for young victims of crime (Young People Affected by Crime) as a result of an increasing demand from victims that we were working with on a previous service project.  We realised early on that we would have to broaden the service. 

We found that it was potentially problematic to invite victims to the same premises that the offenders use. After a long search a property was donated, for long-term use, by the Metropolitan Police, and it was swiftly transformed into a multi-functional drop-in centre.   

We felt that it would be fitting for young offenders to do the decorating as reparation activities, and it was completed in 10 weeks. The restorative ethos of logical consequences for repairing the harm was satisfactorily applied as well as the knock-on effect of benefit to the community. 

The centre offers a variety of positive activities including cooking, photography, computer games, music, computer software and games, as well as counselling, first aid, self defence and exercises for building self-esteem. 

Where there are YPACs who have attendance issues at school as a result of the crime, we provide a short-term service that can escort them to and from school.  This service is reviewed with individual people on a monthly basis to ensure there are no dependency issues.  

We have accessed a charity that takes nominations with a view to provide the victims with vouchers or holidays in cases where there has been material loss or a highly traumatic event in their lives.  These holidays are not limited just to the primary victim, but also open to the whole family or close friends. 

The centre also offers a safe place for meetings of many kinds, including support meetings for parents of young victims, restorative conferencing, referral panel meetings, and professionals meetings. 

The aim of all these services offered to the victims at the centre is to make them feel that they are valued and included in the youth justice process, from which they would normally be excluded.

March 2004

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