Restorative Justice. A form of justice that is not embraced by much of the general population, with it often being seen as a soft option. This was a view I shared for quite some time, being sceptical that it could have an impact great enough to reduce reoffending rates, make criminals understand and be accountable for their crimes, and perhaps most importantly, leave the victim in a better place which should be the result of any justice process. Despite this, it is being increasingly used and heralded as a good additional, if not alternative way, of ensuring justice is served. As a result of this, I felt it only right to look into these ideas further, particularly as my current line of work will involve working with both victims and perpetrators of crime, and figuring out how I can generate resolutions between these people where possible.

But before I delve into this debate, what is Restorative Justice? In the words of those from the Department of Justice, Restorative Justice is the ‘process of bringing together those harmed by crime or conflict with those responsible for the harm, to find a positive way forward’.[1] Although Restorative Justice is most commonly used to help resolve smaller offences, such as noise nuisance, it is also used in more serious crimes, such as burglary and has even been used in cases of sexual assault/rape and with the families of murder victims. But why use it? Is it really effective enough to allow some to feel justice has been restored through a simple conversation? According to many victims and perpetrators of crime, the experience has been invaluable and life changing and with 85 per cent of victims either satisfied or extremely satisfied with the outcome, and it reducing reoffending by up to 50 per cent, maybe it is time it is taken more seriously.[2]

For many of the victims, one of the greatest elements of the Restorative Justice programme is its ability to give the victim a voice. Although victims are often, when able, called to testify against perpetrators of crime within court, in most cases, their testimonies rarely give them the opportunity to convey how the crime has affected their lives and the lives of their families, and how they feel about this. In addition, it does not allow the victim to ask the perpetrator/s questions about their motivations for breaking the law, including asking whether it was personal to them, or they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this way, Restorative Justice allows the focus of the justice system to be shifted, no longer centring on the perpetrator being punished due to their violation of the law, but rather having to go through a justice-seeking process due to the crime’s impact on the victim, with the punitive element not being a custodial sentence etc., but rather having to be held accountable and scrutinised for their behaviour by the victim.

This also has a positive impact on the perpetrator in many cases. Restorative Justice allows them to understand the direct and widespread impact of their actions, or in other words, it can humanise the crime they have committed. This is reflected in the testimonies of several perpetrators that have been through the process, with Peter Woolf’s turnaround being a great example of this. Woolf was a drug addict who had been a repeat offender for years, mainly for robbery, with his family also being heavily involved in crime. However, by meeting with one of the victims whom he robbed, and hearing how the man felt demoralised and unable to protect his family as a result of being victimised by Woolf, his attitude towards crime changed. No longer did he perceive his crime and imprisonment a result of breaking the law, but rather shattering the confidence and security the victim felt in his own home. After going through the process, he never reoffended again, and remarkably co-founded a charity with his victim, Will Riley, for other victims of crime, and he even went as far as writing a book on his experience, The Damage Done.

Woolf’s turnaround is remarkable, but is not something he is alone in, with this being the case for many perpetrators. With all of this in mind, is it time we took Restorative Justice more seriously?


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