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Victims Favour Restoration for Offenders

Victims Favour Restoration for Offenders

A new survey in the United Kingdom shows that nearly two-thirds of crime victims believe that prison sentences don't prevent reoffending.. More than half favour face-to-face meetings between victims and offenders, so victims can relate the impact of the crime and offenders can take responsibility and make amends.

The survey, commissioned by two UK organizations, Victim Support, which helps crime victims, and SmartJustice, a crime-prevention "think tank,"was performed by ICM Research, polled a random sample of 991 adult victims of crime.

Kim Workman, National Director of Prison Fellowship is of the view that restorative justice is gaining wide support from victims as well as offender. Prison Fellowship specialises in victim offender conferences in prison, bringing victims and offenders face-to-face to achieve healing and sometimes reconciliation.

“Our experience is that where both parties are ready and willing to take part in such a meeting, the results are very positive,” says Kim Workman, director of Prison Fellowship New Zealand. “We are talking about such offences as rape, attempted murder, armed robbery and the like.”

Typical stories of reconciliation which occurred last year involve:

• A man convicted of the attempted murder of an elderly woman. He provided some background to his actions, and heard that she remained anxious that he could be a threat once more. He promised that his behaviour had changed and that he would not return to the locality of the crime, if that was her wish. She accepted his reassurances and they hugged on parting.

• A man convicted of causing grievous bodily harm to his ex-wife and her new partner. Both the offender and one of the victims accepted responsibility for what had happened. A child of the offender and his ex-wife also attended the meeting and spoke of his support for his parents and pride in his father’s achievements in prison i.e learning to read and write. The couple supported the offender’s release into the community, as well as a reconciliation with his children and wider whanau.

• A man convicted of aggravated robbery at a family restaurant. He met with the restaurant owner, took responsibility for the crime and explained that he had been using illegal means to try to pay a huge unpaid fine, so he could buy a house for his partner and child. He had not meant to harm anyone. The trauma experienced by an employee and the owner was explained to him. The offender apologized, the apology was accepted and the two men shook hands.

Several other victim-offender meetings are in process and are likely to occur within the next year. The meetings can be requested by offenders, victims, or the families of victims. “Motives vary,” Jackie explains. “In some cases victims want to seek assurance that they won’t be harassed or harmed when the offender is released. In others, the victims want a chance to talk about the impact of the offence on their lives.

“Offenders are mainly seeking an opportunity to express anguish and remorse for harm caused, and seek forgiveness. Most times it is forthcoming – sometimes not,” says Jackie.

Herself an ex-inmate, Jackie understands the power of forgiveness in bringing about behavioural change from her own life experience. Facilitators have been trained to provide the Sycamore programme in eight prisons, and Jackie is hoping they will also eventually begin undertaking the individual victim-offender meetings.

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