Restorative justice not a soft option

Date: Monday 6th August 2018

Sir, Regarding your report on restorative justice (Herald, 28th July) I feel I must take issue with Miss Fearon calling it “nice and pink and fluffy”.

In the courts she will have seen offenders pass through a justice system that is all but irrelevant to them; they are just waiting to hear whether they are getting away with something or getting off lightly.

In restorative justice (RJ) they have to acknowledge the harm they have done, apologise for crimes committed and accept responsibility — that is tough. Anyone who has ever truly apologised in earnest knows that it is not a pink and fluffy option.

I was a fairly sceptical police officer when the then chief constable, Charles Pollard, introduced RJ to Thames Valley police in the 1990s. It was based on proven successful models from around the world.

Offenders cannot “play the system” in RJ. They are required to face up to what they have done on an individual and personal basis and understand the impact on the victim.

They are not just waiting to hear the sentence; they are involved in a process with an empowered victim (or their representative.) If the offender comes out of the process no longer feeling it is OK to offend, and the victim emerges strengthened, not fearful, that is surely what a justice system should be aiming for.

RJ works— not in every case, but in many surprising cases — because it is much harder for an offender, young or old, to disregard a process which engages them and their peers or families.

For offenders the reality that they have really hurt someone often comes as a shock; finding they care about it an even greater one. For victims of crime, perceptions of a faceless villain — frequently built into a terrorising monster — are changed into the more accurate depiction of another human being.

The statistics at the end of your piece bear repeating — 96 per cent feeling safer or at least satisfied with RJ. Yours etc,