Harmer and harmed praise restorative justice during International RJ Week
This week marks International Restorative Justice Week which sees events take place all over the globe from 19-25 November to raise awareness and promote the benefits of restorative justice (RJ).
The High Sheriffs from East and West Sussex visited the RJ Hub in Durrington yesterday to meet with a harmed person and harmer who have been through the RJ process in Sussex and have since been able to move on with their lives.
The woman who will be referred to as Janet underwent restorative justice with a man (John) who, in a speeding and uninsured car, crashed head on with her whilst her five year old daughter was in the back passenger seat. Janet suffered severe cuts and scaring, a ruptured spleen, fractured spine and a broken arm which took a year to heal. Since the crash both John and Janet’s relationships have broken down with John now also estranged from his children.
John fled the scene of the crime after helping Janet out of the car, leaving her child, still in the backseat, to be helped out by Janet’s partner who was also involved in the crash. He described his actions as a ‘moment of madness’ that has since led to a terrible chain of events for all involved.
He didn’t turn up for his court hearing. Janet thought he came across as ‘cocky’ and with ‘no remorse’ during his sentencing, however John was just relieved that the sentence wasn’t as bad as he thought it would have been.
John was sentenced in July 2017 to two years, 9 months in prison for recklessly driving an uninsured vehicle but was released early for good behaviour. Janet, who had already begun the RJ process, saw this as a further injustice and wanted answers to her questions.
Both had given the ‘green light’ to begin the RJ process, made possible by Sussex Police, Victim Support and Sussex Pathways through the Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership. Janet wrote a powerful letter to John explaining how the crash had affected both her and her child’s lives. She says at the end to ‘please consider a response’ however, John thought he could better explain himself in person and so asked for a face to face meeting.
Steve, the RJ facilitator for this case, explained how important it is to move at the pace of the harmed person so Steve and Janet exchanged many texts and had many meetings in preparation for her face-to-face meeting with John.
The conference, like many RJ conferences, was emotionally charged. Janet was able to present John with photos of the crash and ask all the questions that she wanted answers to. Both John and Janet’s recollection of the crash matched each other’s and John showed the remorse and understanding that Janet needed to forgive him.
Restorative Justice helps the harmed to breakdown the ‘monster’ perception they may have of their harmer. Following their conference Janet described John as ‘not a bad bloke, he just made a mistake’, he wasn’t the person she had built up in her mind.
Although every RJ conference is different, the majority of feedback from participants is that it gives them the clarity needed to move on with their lives. Janet described the end of her conference as though a ‘weight had been lifted off her’.
They are now both able to sit in a room with each other and explain the benefits that RJ has had on them, praising the process which both would recommend. When asked if they would have been able to move on in the same way if their case had simply stopped after sentencing, they both said no. Janet said she would still be in a dark place without the opportunity of RJ.
The award-winning Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership was established by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne in September 2014. It is made up of more than 20 agencies which have an interest and commitment to deliver restorative services to victims and offenders of crime, including the National Probation Service, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Sussex Police, Sussex Pathways and Victim Support.
Mrs Bourne said, “Restorative justice is a proven, powerful and effective process which gives the victim the chance to explain to the offender the impact that their crime has had on them.
“As PCC, I remain fully committed to giving all victims the right to access restorative justice if they want it.
“I'm immensely proud of the work of our award-winning RJ Partnership which has helped hundreds of victims in Sussex to restore their faith, not just in the justice system, but in society as a whole.
“I have since listened to the full reading of the initial letter from this case and would agree with Steve, the RJ facilitator, when he said ‘Forgiveness and anger are always present in Restorative Justice and they are emotions which should not be ignored. Forgiveness needs to be earned and anger vented.’
“Giving the harmed a voice is incredibly important to me.”
You can hear the first letter written from the harmed person to her harmer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLrdtyxDlRs
Notes for editors
*names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved