Putting victims at the heart of justice
Nov 26, 2009
Promises to put victims at the heart of the justice system sound good but can have a hollow ring. Too often people find themselves lost in a maze of unfamiliar, complex and bureaucratic criminal justice process and procedures. Only to emerge feeling that their account of being harmed has not really been heard or, at least, not properly understood. So a youth justice system which satisfies 90% of crime victims and substantially reduces reoffending rates is well worth looking into.
....Restorative justice has sometimes been dismissed as "just saying sorry" by those who have no experience of how rigorous and effective this approach is. Yet facing victims is one of the hardest things a perpetrator of crime can be asked to do.
....A structured youth conference usually involves family and community members, and a police officer. Offenders and victims are helped by highly trained and skilled organisers to discuss the offence, its impact and to agree on an action plan for the offender. Components of a youth conference action plan can include:
• An apology – verbal or written.
• Reparation: that is, doing something for the victim or community to make up for the harm caused.
• Specified activity to address offending eg engagement in mentoring or offender behaviour programme, education or diversionary activity.
• Unpaid work for up to 240 hours.
• Restriction: that is, prohibiting the young person from undertaking certain activities or going to certain places; this can entail electronic monitoring.
• Payment of compensation to the victim or a charity.
• Supervision by a social worker or other responsible adult.
•Treatment for alcohol, drug, or mental health problems.
Following burglary and criminal damage at a church, a 16-year-old worked to put things right by cleaning, polishing and painting, supervised by the caretaker, as well as apologising to the clergyman. The young man also donated a sum of money to a charitable organisation helping to reconstruct people's lives and homes after the Asian tsunami. He kept his word as given at the conference, completed all that had been asked of him and has not reoffended. He has returned to school and will shortly take up vocational training. All parties involved in the restorative conference believed the outcomes to be fair and proportionate to the offence.