Circle of Justice Director & ReACT Partner Claire Denby-Knight explains the Restorative Justice approach to resolving anti-social behaviour.
Restorative Justice (RJ) is not a new concept – in fact it can be traced back to Neanderthal times, when the incarceration of an ‘offender’ would have been pointless as his community skills would have been missed, leaving his tribe vulnerable to starvation. It has been used as a tool in Australia for some 20 years, and similarly in other parts of Europe.
But what exactly is it?
According to the Restorative Justice Council, “Restorative processes bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward”.
When I first studied RJ, I thought this was quite a simple definition, and couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about. Now, some three years later, having applied it to a wide variety of cases, I am passionate about it. It does indeed, bring people ‘into communication’, but it does so much more than that.
It takes those involved on a roller coaster of an emotional ride, allowing the harmed party to ask all of the questions of the harmer – face to face – that our traditional justice system simply doesn’t allow. RJ asks that the harmer takes responsibility for his or her actions, and listens to the impact they have had on the person they have affected. RJ has been criticised as a ‘soft option’ in some media arenas, but it is my experience that both parties have to be incredibly brave – yes, BOTH parties to be incredibly brave, to go through the process.
Imagine that you are the victim of a crime or some conflict – many of us are. Leaving physical pain to one side, what would you do if you had the chance to meet the person who had caused your harm? How would you prepare yourself for such an encounter, and how would you feel just before you met? Nervous, frightened, angry, excited?
Now put yourself in the shoes of the person who actually caused your harm. How do they prepare for the meeting, knowing that you are going to be there, and will be telling them about the damage they have caused you? They already know what they have done, but are going to have to sit and listen to you tell them face to face. Will they be nervous, frightened, angry, excited?
In my experience, yes, you and they will be all of these things, and this is where RJ is so powerful. Because you BOTH have the courage to come together, you are BOTH empowered. The harmer may never have stopped to think what the real impact of his or her actions on another human being might be, nor been given the chance to take responsibility and face the consequences of their actions.
The harmed sees the harmer as a human being, not the entire monster they had always thought, and is able to ask their questions and be listened to. I have seen hardened criminals crumble, and turn their lives around on the back of such an encounter. I have also seen cynical, ‘old school’ police officers change the way they deal with offenders, and encourage them to use this as a chance to change.
I have shared the tears, the happiness and the closure of both parties. I have witnessed the hugs, the handshakes and the laughter of both parties. But most of all, I have seen the relief on the faces of people who had let their incident torture them and impact on their lives, and are now able to move forward with real positivity. Whether the harmer or the harmed, their bravery never ceases to amaze me.
Restorative Justice is an integral part of the ASB Crime and Policing Act 2014, where it is cited as a means of resolving issues and preventing escalation. If you work in a sector that deals with ASB and/or conflict, maybe you and your staff would benefit from being trained in this skill, so that you too can use it as a powerful means of resolving issues.
On Thursday May 21st, ReACT hosted a webinar for ASB practitioners called ASB Resolution Tools: The Restorative Justice Approach. To download the webinar click here.
To read Claire’s previous article on the Restorative Justice Approach click here.