What does ‘Success’ in RJ look like?

What Constitutes Success in RJ?

Successful RJ for me is relatively easy to identify. You know you’ve achieved a successful outcome if the people who should own the experience in the first place (victim/offender, harmed/harmer) say so. If participants express satisfaction with the process that should be the measure of success.

That of course can be quantified via an effective assessment process- how did the individual feel, what negative affects were they experiencing before the ‘event’ or crime? and how does the individual feel this has changed as a result of taking part in a restorative process?

For example we consider the 8 areas of need to identify, as a starting point, ‘where’ the victim is emotionally and physically prior to any intervention and assess this afterwards. This is achieved via self assessment.

Surely the person best placed to define something as having ‘worked’ is the beneficiary of whatever that thing is.

In regard to the ongoing direct/indirect RJ debate- this for me is the most frustrating issue in the restorative world. The starting point (which seems to have secured full statutory support and belief) is that conferences, face to face, direct RJ are very very good and letter exchanges, shuttle communication, indirect RJ is not only a ‘waste of time’ but also ‘a failure on the part of the restorative practitioner’ – both of these statements are quotes made directly to me by ‘restorative champions’ in the UK.

My response to this position-

  1. Why?
  2. What are you basing that on?
  3. Better for who?

The problem is that this argument has taken centre stage and those advocating it have largely won the, never had, public debate to such an extent that directs/conferences now in the vast majority of statutory contracts (OPCC/Police/CRC etc etc) are the ONLY countable intervention and INDIRECT processes are entirely disregarded.

So why do I think the position is wrong? and it isn’t because, as has also been suggested, I want an ‘easy life’ because ‘after all conferences are harder’. I think the position is wrong because-

  1. It is NOT RESTORATIVE. Victims and offenders (in the CJS context) must have the opportunity to make an informed choice as to how they wish to be involved. By all means explore direct options first but if the conclusion of that exploration is that a direct meeting isn’t possible then INDIRECT options should be considered.
  2. If you claim to be VICTIM LED (another term I feel is questionable) and the victim, after consideration does not want to meet the offender but desperately wants the opportunity for questions to be answered or to simply know that their views have been passed to the offender- why on earth would you deny that opportunity? or why would you quantify that as irrelevant? unworthy of being counted as a restorative intervention?

For example in a recent death by dangerous driving case we facilitated we met Claire who’s 19 year old son had been killed as a result of a drink driver who had subsequently fled the scene. Our practitioner met with Claire over several meetings given her emotional state to discuss restorative options and to see if this was something Claire might receive from benefit from taking part in. After taking part INDIRECTLY (so none of that work

[several hours] counts as part of the contract it was facilitated under) Claire said“There was no way I think I could ever bring myself to meet him face to face. I can see why some people would but it wasn’t for me. I thought about it and Remedi gave me all the information and time I needed to make my mind up but it wasn’t for me. Instead I wrote a long letter explaining what a beautiful person inside and out my son was and the devastation our family has gone through losing him. It took me ages to write the letter, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and just doing that helped me so much as it allowed me to let out all I had inside of me. I also wanted to know what the offender thought now. He pleaded guilty in court and we never got the chance to know if he even had any regrets so I asked for a letter back.

I got the letter back a couple of weeks later and I was surprised at how much reading his words really helped me. I will never ever forgive him for what he did and I never want to see him again but I am happy that I took part in this and I cant praise the Remedi staff enough for how supportive and caring they were. Nothing will take away the pain of losing my baby boy but taking part in this has helped me cope with that loss more than anything else I have done. Thank you so much”

  1. I suspect that the position where cases like the above are disgracefully disregarded is partly motivated by either a lack of understanding as to what INDIRECT processes actually are and how they should be delivered or is based on previosu experience of bad practice. I feel this is due to the never ending use of terms like ‘letter of apology’ and the fear that practitioners will abuse the process by just getting the offender to dash off an apology and that’s that.

Let’s be honest – that practice has existed- I’ve seen it. I’ve even seen practitioners claiming to be restorative who use pre printed ‘letters of apology’ which they just get the offender to sign and then pass on to the victim!- Appalling – but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The answer is to address bad practice and ensure that quality INDIRECT services are facilitated.

I do not believe that there has been sufficient consultation with the sector regarding best practice in regard to identifying best practice for indirect restorative processes and that the conclusions drawn have been too frequently misinformed. Here’s an idea- lets be restorative, lets have a discussion, perhaps even a circle and let us really drill down into why we feel we believe what we believe. Perhaps we might all learn something and that can only benefit future service users.

The current state of play where the number of conferences is the only measure of success is in my opinion dangerous and the greatest threat to RJ. Why? Firstly – because practitioners are cutting corners and side stepping risk assessments simply to chase an arbitrary target and secondly because volume does not necessarily equal quality, Macdonalds sell a lot of burgers but I wouldn’t necessarily define it as haute cuisine. That has to be wrong.