Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Restorative Justice

The report about the riots in England last summer was out today (28 March 2012). From my fairly bried skim through it I can see that it favours restorative justice strongly. I was reminded of a recent item on BBC Radio 4, probably last week, in which meetings had been set up between the parents of someone who had been brutally murdered in the street for no apparent reason, and the perpetrators of another, I believe violent crime (meeting the actual people who had killed their son would be unbearable, and I assume this is the reason it wasn't done that way). What really struck me was how the perpetrators used expressed in their own words how they hadn't really previously considered what the loved ones of their victims might feel as a result of their activities. This is what seems 'restorative' for the perpetrators, who in so many cases 'see' and reform their lives - and of course don't re-offend. For the victims or their loved ones, what's restorative is to see that change happen. Something good has come out of the dreadful actions and consequences.

The background and early life of those who commit crimes are often harrowing to hear of. They haven't been raised in a supportive and loving home, and have often been victims of something much worse than neglect. Perhaps even their parents had an upbringing like this, and are passing on what they know. Violence begets violence. The challenge for society is to break the chain of bad upbringing - and one way of helping might be using some of the techniques of restorative justice. Maybe a young person on a trajectory towards violence, if shown (for example) the restorative justice process I described above (featured on BBC Radio 4) , would be convinced not to continue on that trajectory. A tragedy could thus perhaps be avoided by the restorative's application prior to the need for any justice.

On the front of the London Metro free newspaper today, someone was opining that there's not enough deterrent in the likelihood and severity of prison sentences. Maybe people who were brought up in harsh or even violent homes will fear more of the same in prison, and restrain themselves. I don't know, but I'm not sure fear is what we really want to tap into - not ideally, anyway. The problem of the prison regime though, is for those who go through it. They've maybe started life in a harsh environment of punishment. They've committed a crime, and they're consequently subjected to another harsh regime of punishment. It's all they know. And not only does prison continue the harsh regime of their childhood, it mixes them with hardened re-offenders and gives them the opportunity to study in an academy of crime with the experts.

So, we can look at what happened to offenders before their offence, and make sure that the same thing is not happening to children and young people now. The prevention of re-offending is wise, but if the techniques used on offenders were used on pre-offenders, wow many offences might be prevented?

The riot report says that 50% of the crimes committed in the riots were acquisitive (looting, theft and robbery) and also comments on deprivation. Unfortunately it doesn't hit on the concept of inequality that is used in the book The Spirit Level, and shown to be a good predictor of social ills. Deprivation must be a key feature of those homes where children are badly brought up. Tackle that, and your dealing upstream with violence and rioting, which can only be logical as well as good.

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