IN THE UK, 775 homes are broken into and half of the offenders come out of prison and strike again (UK Crime Statistics).
Last night’s Panorama documentary – Meet the Burglars – demonstrated a different approach to justice: arranging for victims to come face to face with their offenders.
Although this sounds dramatic and possibly unimaginable in some cases, restorative justice, as it is called, has proven to be an effective method of mediating crime.
It recognises that crime affects the victim more than society or the state.
The process has seen a 30% reduction in crime in Hull and 40% less victims end up suffering from post-traumatic stress.
In addition, the majority of Hull police officers have the discretion to offer this instead of time-consuming and expensive court trials.
The Ministry of Justice claim that for every pound spent on restorative justice, eight pounds are saved. Humberside police also add that it has proven to save time and keep more officers on the beat.
Remedi, an organisation based in Sheffield, organises restorative justice meetings. Steve Jones, the director of the company, explained to Panorama that the method is cathartic for victims.
He emphasised the fact that the meetings are voluntary and must remain that way in order to foster heartfelt and genuine communication between both parties.
He added that offenders do not get reduced sentences as a result of agreeing to such meetings. In fact, the victim has a say in the punishment given to them.
An example shown on the programme was of an elderly lady coming face to face with a 17-year old boy who had burgled her house. Her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, lost his balance and fell over from the shock caused by the intruder.
The lady met her burglar at a youth centre – along with a meditator from Remedi – and said that as this was his first offence and because of his age, she did not feel like he should go to prison.
The boy said he would never commit the crime again, not just because of the pain that it causes him, but because of the distress it causes others.
The lady suggested that he should take part in community service and volunteer at old peoples’ homes. She said to him: “You’re worth a second chance”.
MP Crispin Blunt, Minister of Justice, said an offender should be able to explain why they offended.
Restorative justice focusses on the needs of both the victim and the offender and aside from victim and offender meetings, it is also practised through conferencing, healing circles, victim assistance, ex-offender assistance, restitution and community service.
Restorative justice can be a difficult step forward for victims – and their offenders – involved in serious, traumatic crimes. But the demonstrated positive effects are significant in providing a solution to the growing problem of crime in the UK.
We live in a fast-paced society which seeks fast solutions to complex problems. Even the response to the recent English riots showed an expectation of uprooting the cause of the uprising by just preening the surface.
Restorative justice, although a solution that may be unsuitable in some cases, attempts to get to the heart of an offence, forcing the offender to reflect on their actions and provides a healing process for victims.
It also takes a promising step in restoring some faith in humanity.
– Monica Sarkar