From victims to facilitators, here’s what some of our readers said about their experiences
Prisoners taking part in a scheme to promote restorative justice. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer
The service of restorative justice usually involves bringing together victim and offender in a face-to-face meeting in a bid to empower and rehabilitate. In some cases, trained facilitators pass messages back and forth and there is no direct contact. But both parties must be willing to participate.
In the UK, availability of the service is subject to a postcode lottery, with public awareness of restorative justice still relatively low, at 28%, according to a survey. The same poll, however, found that 80% of those questioned thought that victims should have the right to meet their offender.
After a government select committee said the legal system in England and Wales should work towards ensuring the right to restorative justice, we asked you about your experiences of the process. Here’s what some of our readers said:
‘I wanted to meet him on my terms, to shift the power balance’
I was abducted and sexually assaulted when I was eight. He was a serial rapist and has been in jail serving his sentence since 1986.
I have been in a very long relationship with this man that I don’t know. It is strange to be so impacted by and connected to someone you don’t know. I wanted to meet him on my terms, to shift the power balance, but also to humanise him rather than demonise him, as our society would see us do.
It is a powerful connection – a horrible one, but a powerful one. I wanted to give him some things I had been carrying and wanted to let go of, and to take back some things he took from me. I also wanted to show compassion, and to create a connection. After living almost 30 years with feeling such an intense range of emotions – hatred, anger, guilt, shame, vengeance, depression, etc. – I needed to shift my experience and live from a lighter place.
Truthfully, too, I was curious – what is this man like? Is he as unstable as has been suggested by his behaviour and reports at the parole hearings? The only way to know some things is to go to the source. And he is the source of so very, very much for me and mine.
Everyone should have the right to restorative justice. Not everyone will want to do it, and people may feel differently about it at different points of their journey. I look forward to a day when it is seamlessly integrated into the system.
I needed my voice to be heard’
My 15-year-old died after taking ecstasy. I went through restorative justice with the drug dealer. We wrote to one another for 18 months. It was an incredibly healing experience.
I needed my voice to be heard. I wanted to find a positive way through what had happened and for questions to be answered by the person who caused the harm. Through our letters, I got to see that the impact of what had happened lay as heavily on him as it did on me. It helped me hear the voice of the boy behind the headlines, and to have a direct dialogue was important as I needed to lay a few things to rest.
The world would be a better place if everyone had the opportunity to take part in restorative justice.
‘I overthought his answers and questioned his sincerity’
Someone broke into our home and threw a pair of garden shears at my husband. I chose to do restorative justice because it was all we had. The offender didn’t go to prison but was given a community order instead.
I found this very hard to deal with and I couldn’t cope with the injustice, I still can’t. I didn’t know what to do, I felt ignored and lost. When we were given this opportunity, I wanted to do it as I needed him to become a human being. To me he was a mystical figure, he was a horrible monster with no compassion.
I didn’t find it helpful though. The meeting itself was good and afterwards I felt very positive. About two hours after the meeting I fell into a pit of despair. I overthought his answers, I berated myself for forgetting to say things and I questioned his sincerity.
Absolutely people should have access to restorative justice. It didn’t work for me but I can see how it could for other people. I can imagine it being incredibly powerful. It should be an option for people to explore, but it needs to be looked at carefully as I think in some cases it could make things worse. Scenarios of domestic violence in particular are not appropriate for restorative justice, as the victim may feel obliged to accede to an offender’s point of view without speaking up for themselves.
Access to restorative justice should not be limited to region and should be made available as part of a global strategy to empower victims and rehabilitate offenders.
Anonymous, South Wales
‘I began to remember the raw beauty of life’s paradox of love, of loss and of hope’
My father was murdered in Toronto. Thirty years later, the man who put the bullet in his heart emailed me. We met. We spoke. We cried. We shared powerful healing.
I wanted to come to know about the human who took the life of the human I loved. I wanted to know him, his reasons, his heart, our shared humanity. I wanted him to know me. I needed to have a voice and to hear his.
I found the process helpful because I began to remember that I did not die when my dad was murdered. I began to remember the raw beauty of life’s paradox of love, of loss, of hope, of compassion for my very self and for the man who pulled the trigger. We were both in hell. Meeting liberated us. We both knew we were loved and loving. Both human.
Margot Van Sluytman, Canada
‘The system could not manage victims’ anger and desire for restitution’
As a member of the referral order team we would encourage offenders to consider the effects of their actions on the victims, and to respond to those people following the offence.
I felt restorative justice would reduce the likelihood of further offending behaviour and give the victims of crime their day in court. It corrected the imbalance arising in the criminal justice system, which encouraged offenders to deny responsibility for their actions.
The process, however, was not helpful. The youth offending service was very defensive and unable to really engage with victims. The system could not manage victims’ anger and desire for restitution, leaving them vulnerable to being victimised further.
Restorative justice is wonderful and should be more widely applied but it is a high-risk approach and victims may feel even more aggrieved if the system does not invest enough resources for the process to be performed effectively. Done well it is brilliant but if not then it risks being a disaster.
Gavin Lindsay, trained volunteer member of the referral order team, Longhope
For more information see the Restorative Justice Council, which provides advice and information for victims.