Sussex PCC welcomes royal visitor to celebrate restorative justice
Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has welcomed Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal to her office in Lewes to mark the third year of co-ordinated restorative justice across the county.
The Princess Royal, who is Patron of the Restorative Justice Council, visited Sackville House on Thursday, 23 February 2017, to learn more about the work of the award-winning Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership.
“When Police and Crime Commissioners were given the responsibility to deliver victim services, some areas of the country were slow to buy in to the idea of restorative justice. In Sussex I made it a priority to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system and had no doubt that restorative justice should form an important part of this provision,” said Mrs Bourne.
“Before our partnership was formed restorative justice was inconsistent across Sussex. Two-and-a-half years down the line we have a dedicated group of practitioners, criminal justice agencies and voluntary organisations from across the spectrum of criminal justice, all working together to ensure both victims and wrongdoers are offered the chance to access a restorative service.”
During her visit The Princess Royal heard from speakers including volunteer restorative justice facilitators, victims of crime and one former offender who shared their experiences of the process. East Sussex High Sheriff Michael Foster, Cllr Nigel Enever, chair of Lewes District Council, Mayor of Lewes Graham Mayhew and Giles York, Chief Constable of Sussex Police, were also among the guests at the event.
“Restorative justice is about people coming together, their voices being heard and feelings registered,” Stephen Wells, a volunteer facilitator for the Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership, told the audience.
“When a crime is committed, there is a need for answers and restorative justice can help to provide this by bringing together those who were harmed with those who have harmed them. It is transformative being listened to and having those questions answered.”
Zac Mehmeti, a father-of-two from Eastbourne (pictured on the right), spoke of his experience of restorative justice after being held up at knifepoint while driving his taxi. A refugee from Kosovo who came to the UK as a teenager 18 years ago, he described how the robbery had shaken his faith in his adopted home.
“I felt worse the night that happened than I felt during the war,” he said. “In the war, you expected to be killed every minute but that night, I was just working, I wasn’t doing anything wrong and then someone came and put a knife to my neck.
“I wondered if I was targeted because I’m foreign. I don’t have the words to describe how bad I was feeling – I was thinking about leaving the country, I told my wife that we weren’t safe here any more.”
But after receiving a letter from his attacker, Zac says he was able to find peace.
“He told me he was high on drink and drugs, that I could have been anyone. The support we received throughout the process from the police made me feel more confident and like someone cared for us again.”
Campaigner Rosalyn Boyce told of her exceptionally brave decision to meet her attacker following a serious sexual assault 17 years ago.
“When he was convicted, I felt that I had my own life sentence,” says Rosalyn, who met her attacker in prison in 2014. “I realised that if I was ever going to fully recover, I was going to have to forgive the person that had done this to me.
“Since that three-hour conference, people close to me have noticed a huge change. I’m at peace; I’m not afraid. All the burden that I had been carrying round with me, I handed it back so I now feel a lot lighter and I genuinely don’t even think about him.
“Restorative justice is about empowering victims and giving them back what they have lost but it’s vital to listen to what they need.”
The audience also heard from ex-offender Jake* who found out about restorative justice through his connection with a local charity and wrote to his victim to express his remorse.
“It was something that I really wanted to do as I was trying to turn my life around and it was hopefully a way for the victim to turn their life around too,” he said. “I wanted to put it in the past and to prove that I am not the person that I was on that night. It has given me a sense of empathy to understand what my actions can do to other people.
“I have carried this shame for a lot of my life and it has helped me to put that aside. I want to create a better life for myself and my child.”
“Today has been a fantastic opportunity to showcase the award-winning work that the Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership has been doing over the past three years,” says John Willett, Head of Partnerships for the Office of the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner.
“Restorative justice has been proven to have a greater impact on an offender than a prison sentence or a court punishment alone. With restorative justice, the offender has to face the consequences of their actions and, in the majority of cases, this will contribute to positive changes in their future behaviour.
“We were delighted that HRH Princess Anne was able to hear first-hand from some of those who have undergone restorative justice and to meet the amazing people who are making it possible across our county.”
* Not his real name
Notes for editors
As part of an initiative to develop Restorative Justice (RJ) services across the county, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner set up the Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership in September 2014, 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 and Victim Support.
The Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership has invested in three RJ co-ordinators across Sussex and trained 45 facilitators who are either paid, staff volunteers or from a partner agency. The service has three hubs – in Brighton, Bexhill and Bognor Regis – and more than 590 referrals were made to the hubs between April 2015 and March 2016. The system received a 100% victim satisfaction score for the period.