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Expand restorative justice so victims can meet offenders in prison

Restorative Justice (RJ) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims and lets victims tell offenders the real impact of their crime and holds offenders, whether young people or adults, directly accountable.

Working with the Safer Poole Partnership, the PCC funded the Restorative Dorset service which launched in September 2017, introducing a service across the county. This built on the previous Neighbourhood Justice Panel (NJP) approach that had only been in place in some areas.

The service offers two types of restorative intervention:

  • Restorative mediation provides a platform for members of conflicted communities to move forward and improve their quality of life. It can be used in situations such as neighbourhood disputes, where all parties will agree on the outcomes.
  •  Restorative justice offers victims the opportunity to meet offenders and explain the full extent of the impact of their crimes. The service is already widely available for victims of crimes committed by young people and the project will be the first pan-Dorset service for victims of crimes committed by adults.

This service can be used for all types of crime and the facilitated meetings can be highly beneficial for both parties. Outcomes typically include an apology, financial compensation, or simply a platform to ask questions and get answers. Giving victims a voice in this way has been shown to improve their ability to gain closure and move on.

Offenders involved in the process have been able to mend some of the damage caused by their crimes. They have also been seen to engage with programmes that address underlying problems such as alcohol or drug misuse. This has had a positive impact on their risk of reoffending.

At the launch the PCC said: “By bringing together victims and offenders, the service explores a more sustainable solution to crime, empowering victims to share their experiences in a way that helps their own development. It also holds offenders to account, encouraging them both to reflect on their behaviour and look ahead to a life outside of crime.”

More than 160 cases had been referred to Restorative Dorset up to the end of November 2019, and they have been working with prisons across the South West to arrange cases between victims and adult offenders.

The cases they’ve dealt with so far include burglaries, criminal damage, hate crime and violent crime, including armed robbery, GBH, domestic abuse and sexual assault. They’ve also dealt with road traffic incidents – one of which had a life changing impact on the victim.

Commissioned for three years initially, they are now focussing on working with agencies to promote the service, increase the number of referrals they deal with and increase their capacity to support sensitive cases including sexual harm and domestic abuse. The PCC will continue to monitor this service throughout the remainder of his term of office.

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