Neighbourhood Justice Panels To Reconnect Communities In Weymouth and Poole

Marking International Restorative Justice Week

In a new bid to tackle low level crime and anti-social behaviour, the Dorset Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) has confirmed that it’s extending its Neighbourhood Justice Panel programme to Weymouth and Poole in 2015, to help bring together victims and offenders in a bid to make the county safer. This announcement coincides with International Restorative Justice Week (16-23 November 2014), which is aimed at raising awareness and understanding of Restorative Justice.

Neighbourhood Justice Panels are designed to help those involved in low level crime and ASB understand the impact of their actions on others and gives them an opportunity to make amends. West Dorset has been successfully using this restorative justice approach for the last four years. The OPCC has recently commissioned an evaluation to demonstrate the success of this work in victim satisfaction and reducing reoffending rates.

An example of a case which was referred to a West Dorset Neighbourhood Justice Panel was a dispute between neighbours over parking on the road. Both parties were involved in an argument during which the perpetrator kicked a car door and assaulted the victim, resulting in a small facial cut. The victim said: “I agreed to take part in the neighbourhood justice panel as it seemed a better way of resolving the issues. It let both sides have their say and problems were aired in an adult manner.” The perpetrator of the case said: “My advice to anyone being offered restorative justice is to take it because it’s a better option, especially in a small community where we all see each other on a daily basis. Dialogue is often the best way forwards. Everyone benefits and it means we can get on with normal life again”.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Restorative justice gives victims the opportunity to explain how the crime has affected their life. It also gives offenders a chance to face the consequences of their actions, in the hope that this will play a part in repairing harm so everyone can move on. Research shows that Restorative Justice (RJ) is associated with high levels of victim satisfaction and can also help reduce reoffending by offenders.”

Mr Underhill added: “There are several areas where Restorative Justice is being used in Dorset and I am keen to see this work expand. Within the OPCC, I have a dedicated RJ project manager who is working to coordinate and facilitate the work of RJ as widely as possible through the development of a multi-agency strategy and work programme. I am funding and supporting a wider range of projects, working with several partner agencies, including the use of post-conviction RJ conferences and the expansion of Neighbourhood Justice Panels into Poole and Weymouth.”

Rip Kirby is a Neighbourhood Justice Panel facilitator for the Dorchester area. He says: “It is really satisfying to see those involved in low level crime and ASB being able to reach a conclusion. It takes bravery and trust from all parties for the panels to succeed. Without exception, the cases I have dealt with have given both the offenders and victims a positive closure."

Neighbourhood Justice Panels:

Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) have been operating in part of Dorset since 2010 and work with adults involved in low-level crime and anti-social behaviour cases. An NJP is a face to face conference in which offenders of low-level crime and/or perpetrators of anti-social behaviour, and any wider involved community, to recognise the harm they have caused, and make meaningful amends for their actions.

Once a suitable crime or incident of anti-social behaviour is identified a panel meeting is arranged by a co-ordinator, following contacting both the victim and the perpetrator to ensure they understand and agree to the process. The panel meeting is facilitated by an experienced independent RJ trained volunteer (often with a ‘co-facilitator’) to engage those in the conflict to be part of the solution through the delivery of an outcome agreement that meets the needs of the victim(s) and the wider community involved.

Restorative Justice With Young People  

Use of RJ with young people who have committed a low-level crime, such as criminal damage, has been in place in Dorset Police for the last seven years and has been successful in reducing reoffending.

Restorative Justice in Prisons

Post-conviction RJ conferences are established usually where a victim of crime, often through an agency working with the victim, requests RJ with the convicted offender. Some request for RJ comes from the offender, either through prison or probation services. The organisations involved with the victim and with the offender liaise to set up an RJ conference when appropriate. 

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