An INDIRECT Restorative Process Facilitated Correctly…

CASE STUDY: Robbery

Background to Case: Dave entered a business premises and attempted to steal the till and its contents. He then had a confrontation with the staff members in which they had to use force to stop him stealing the till and also to detain him until the police arrived. The case was identified as it received extensive coverage in the local media.

Victim/s: The manager of the store, Sandra, said that she did not wish to meet with Dave face to face but that she would like some questions answering about the offence. She wanted to know why he had committed the offence and whether there was any element of pre-meditation or planning. Although the victim said that immediately after the offence she did think “it could have gone wrong and all of us been hurt”, she had largely moved on since it had happened.

Offender/s: Dave was extremely remorseful from the outset, he stated that he was “ashamed of his actions” and wanted to do whatever he could to “put the situation right”. Although he wanted to meet with the Sandra to explain his actions, he acknowledged that writing a letter would also allow him to express his regret and provide answers to her questions.

The Process: Over several sessions with Dave and his Probation Officer the offender explained the circumstances that he had faced at the time of the offence. His life had spiraled out of control due to debts and drug use and he had committed the offence as he felt there was “no way out” and he was becoming a “burden” to his family. Dave re-wrote the letter several times until he was happy with its contents.

Feedback: Sandra said “I really appreciate the letter” and said “I really appreciate the letter” and said it was “nice to know that he’s turned his life around”. As the letter was long and detailed she said that she was “amazed at the effort” Dave had gone to and felt that it was a really impressive service. She said that she was happy for this feedback to be passed back to the Dave.

Dave said “It’s important that the victims get to know who I really am. I got positive feedback from the victim and they’ve now seen another side to me”. He went on to say that he would recommend this process to other offenders: “I think it’s important for offenders to think about what they have done and it helps them get it off their chest. It helps with victim awareness”.

Dave’s Probation Officer also felt that it had been a valuable experience for Dave, she said “this has been the perfect process for Dave, he has been living with the shame of what he did and this has been a great opportunity to reduce that and move on with his life”.

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CASE STUDY 84

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CASE STUDY: Burglary Dwelling x 2

Background to Case:

The offender Andy entered the homes of the victims Charlie and Carol and stole property.  Both victims are vulnerable.

The burglary at Charlie’s home occurred during the night and Charlie who was asleep upstairs in his home was woken when Andy broke in.  Andy managed to run away but not before stealing some money.

Andy had been at a friend’s home when he saw Carol go out and walk around the front to talk to a friend.  On seeing this he saw the opportunity to walk into Carol’s home and steal property.  He was seen by Carol and ran away.

Both crimes were reported to the police.  Andy was arrested and received a custodial sentence.

Victim/s:

 Charlie is an elderly widow.  He lives alone and is house bound.  He suffers from various illnesses.

Carol is single, also lives alone and suffers from Mental Health problems.

 Offender/s:

Andy is unemployed and was a heavy drug user at the time of the offences.  He openly admits to thinking only about the drugs at the time he committed the offences.

 The Process:

Both Charlie and Carol were approached and the process explained.  Neither wanted to meet with Andy and due to their health problems, it was felt a face-to-face would not be appropriate. They both wanted to receive a letter from Andy explained why he broke into their respective homes.

This was relayed to Andy and he readily agreed to write them each a letter.  Once completed the letters were delivered to Charlie and Carol.  Andy apologised to them both for what he did.  He explained that he was a heavy drug user at the time and that was all he thought about.  He said that it was not personal and that both offences were committed because the opportunity presented itself.

Feedback:

 Charlie said he was glad he had been given the opportunity to receive a letter from Andy and it made him now feel safe in his home knowing that it was not personal. Carol was also pleased to receive the letter and the apology; both said they were glad they could take part in the process.

Andy said he was pleased he wrote the letters to the victims as it gave him the opportunity to explain to them why he did it and hopefully put their minds at ease that it was not personal.

 

 

 

CASE STUDY 83

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CASE STUDY: Throw stone/object/thing at railway engine

Background to Case:

This was a case referred to me by the local youth offending team regarding a young person who had received a 10 month referral order for throwing a stone at a railway.

 Victim/s:

The victim was Northern Rail. The stone had smashed the train driver’s window and he was very shook up. The railway had concerns and hoped the young person fully understood the consequences for his actions.

 Offender/s:

The young person was very remorseful and stated he never meant to hit the train, it was ‘a stupid mistake’.

 The Process:

The young person completed a victim awareness session looking at victims, who could be one, how they can be affected and how they might feel. He was able to identify from the session both direct and indirect victims of his offence and understand how they had been affected. The young person was very remorseful and wanted the opportunity to apologise to the train company. After contacting the British transport police a representative agreed to come meet the young person and explain the consequences of offences like this.

The meeting went well the young person explained his offence and said how sorry he was. The victim completed a program with the young person looking at how the train line, transport police, train drivers, customers and general public are all affected. The young person engaged throughout and really took on board everything she said. He again apologized and she told him she ‘can see how remorseful he is and appreciates his apology’.

Feedback:

 The young person thanked me for giving him ‘the opportunity to apologise’ and has agreed to complete some direct reparation for the railway should we find something suitable.

The victim said ‘you can tell he is really remorseful and this was a silly mistake, hopefully this means he will never do anything like this again for his own safety as well as others.’

CASE STUDY 82

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CASE STUDY: Theft

 Background to Case:

This was a case referred to us by a Case Worker at our partnership agency, P3

He had been working extensively with the offender and he felt that Remedi could support him in understanding the impact of his offending behaviour and begin to make positive changes in his life. The offender had been arrested for shoplifting in numerous stores in his local City Centre.

Victim/s:

The victim was a Store Manager at a technology store. The offender had taken a selection of DVDs from the store and was caught with them on his person. The victim said “we are frequently targeted by shoplifters, but they rarely reach out to apologise and acknowledge their actions.” He said that he would like to accept the offender’s letter of apology and meet him in person if he was willing to do so.

Offender/s:

The offender said that he had been stealing to fund an old drug habit, but since coming out of prison he had remained clean and wanted to “say sorry for taking those DVDs, there was no need to do it. Hopefully saying sorry in person will be the start of trying to make it up to them.”

The Process:

The offender was escorted to the store by the Restorative Justice Practitioners. The victim was escorted outside to meet the offender by one of the Practitioners. They shook hands with each other and the offender apologised for stealing from the store and handed the victim his letter. The victim thanked him and stated “it means a lot that you’ve made the effort to come here and apologise; it takes some real guts to do it. And I appreciate that you’ve made the effort today. You’re welcome to come back in the store any time.” The offender thanked the victim and explained some of the circumstances around his offending behaviour and his personal situation at the time. They shook hands with each other at the end of the meeting.

Feedback:

The offender said that he was glad that he had taken part in Restorative Justice. He told us “I’ve never really thought about the staff when I’ve taken stuff.” He told us that taking part had made him realise that people were affected by his behaviour and that shoplifting wasn’t a ‘victimless crime.’

 

CASE STUDY 81

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CASE STUDY: Assault

Background

Jane and her friends were having a night out and when they walked into the pub the victim heard the offender, Bill, make a comment about her. While her partner was at the bar buying her a drink, Jane and her friends went to sit down at a table, as she did this Bill pulled her chair away and she fell over and broke her coccyx.

The police were called and Bill was interviewed in respect of the assault. Rather than prosecute Bill, Jane said that she would rather have a restorative meeting with him so that she could explain the impact the offence had on her and her family.

 The Offender

Bill had never previously been in trouble with the police before. He said that on the day of the offence he had been drinking over several hours. He bitterly regretted his actions and said that he would like the opportunity to apologise directly to the victim. When offered the opportunity to engage in restorative justice by the police he said that he would like to do it.

 The Victim

As a result of the injuries she suffered Jane was immobilised for several weeks, this meant she was unable to care for her children or walk upstairs. Jane wanted to explain to Bill that although he had only done what seemed like a small act, it had a serious implication for her and her family.

 Process

Bill and Jane were met individually so that the principles of a restorative meeting could be explained and they could ask questions about how the meeting would work.  When they met, Jane explained the impact that the offence had on her and her family. She outlined several difficulties that the family had experienced as a result of the offence. Bill apologised and said that he had no idea that his actions had such profound consequences. He said that he was embarrassed by his actions and as a result had massively reduced his drinking.

Outcome

Jane said that she hadn’t expected the meeting to be as emotional but that by telling Bill the consequences of his actions she felt much better. She said that she had been scared that she would bump into him if she returned to the location of the offence but said “I’m not scared of him anymore”. Bill said that he was glad to have had the opportunity to apologise directly to Jane and that the meeting had made him think more before acting in the future.

Michael Palin Longford Lecture 2015

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‘Collateral Damage: The Effects of Prison Sentences on Offenders’ Families’

In 2015 our Patron, Michael Palin, delivered the 14th Longford Lecture. Please find a transcript of his speech below. Our work over the last 20 years fully endorses and confirms, all too frequently, the issues Michael outlines.

The Longford Lecture 2015

I believe there is only one starting point when considering the efficacy of a prison sentence and that is how successful it can be in combining punishment with prevention from re-offending. One of the most important elements in this equation is the family of the offender. This was acknowledged by Lord Woolf in his report after the Strangeways Riot of 1990, when one of his central recommendations was that there should be better prospects for prisoners to retain their links with families. It was reiterated by Charles Clarke when he was Home Secretary. Addressing the question of successful resettlement, he noted “We need to remember the vital role of family, friends and community”, and it was underlined more recently in a review from the Inspectorate of Prisons which recognised “the central importance of an offenders family and friends to their successful rehabilitation”

The influence of the family relationship on the mental and physical state of the offender is profound. It can be damaging, or it can be powerfully beneficial. One thing it can’t be, is ignored.

Yet my own feeling, backed up by reports, conversations and a wealth of anecdotal evidence is that this is precisely what families of offenders feel is happening.

From the moment an arrest is made, the family is intimately involved. Sometimes quite brutally so. Doors can be broken open and rooms searched, personal belongings seized, parents handcuffed and hauled away in front of their children, brothers and sisters in front of their siblings. If not present at the time of the arrest, family members will often find it hard to glean information about the reason for the arrest, the location to which their arrested relative has been taken and what access, if any, they will be allowed. An arrest warrant does not come with any description of their legal rights. The marginalization of the family begins from the very first moment of detention.

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Even if the person detained is eventually proven guilty in court, there can be no excuse for adding lack of information to the emotional shock already imposed.

“My partner had nothing to do with it, my children had nothing to do with it, it’s just that their lives have been thrown into a tornado by what I’d done” was one testimony I heard. The guilt is there on both sides and stigma by association is a theme reiterated by almost all the family members I talked to. They have committed no crime, but they are made to feel as if they are accomplices just because they’re related.

After the arrest and before trial comes the remand stage, a judicial limbo-land which can last weeks or even months, adding the extra burden of uncertainty to the feelings of guilt and shame that are already present, along with loss of earnings and, in some cases media intrusion, local press revelations and the resulting strain on friendships and social life. As no formal charge of wrongdoing has been proven, one would expect this to be a time when the family were able to keep in contact, but many report being kept in the dark as to where their family member is being held, and what rights of access they might have to them.

Making communication difficult at this early stage only strengthens the suspicion that both individual and collective guilt is assumed before the case has even come to court.

The trial period can be particularly unsettling for both families and the accused. The process of justice is intimidating and often difficult to follow. One mother, Paula, made one powerful point: “everyone I met on my journey to court – police officer, custody sergeant, duty solicitor, prosecuting barrister, my barrister, the judges. All male”. Some, especially those with children in school, find it physically impossible to attend court every day. One woman who wasn’t present to see her partner sentenced was not informed by anyone about the verdict. These things may seem incredible to those of us who can get ourselves organised but many family members are vulnerable, with mental and physical health problems. Confused, shunned by friends, their confidence eroded during the long remand process, these are the people who need help

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from within the criminal justice system but so often find that they are left to sink or swim. “Did anyone ever ask about how your family will be affected ?”, I asked Paula. “No”, she told me ‘they were just interested in the process, and enforcing the penalty”

Once the accused becomes the convicted a different set of pressures comes to bear on the families. The possibility of innocence, or wrongful arrest, is no longer a sustaining hope. They must now live with the reality of incarceration and a criminal record. Just when the going gets tougher the state and society turn their backs. Justice has been done. A sentence must be served.

But why should the families themselves have to be punished ? Committing an offence does not mean that feelings of love and affection are suddenly negated, and it is not the families who have been incarcerated. Depriving them of contact or just making contact difficult is penalising the innocent as well as the guilty.

The story of one young man shows the cruel price the innocent can pay. Jacob lived with his younger brother and his mother, a care worker who had looked after children on a troubled estate, for 15 years. Her work had been judged outstanding by Ofsted. One night he had gone to the help of his friend in a pub, and had thrown a punch and knocked a man to the floor. A month later police came round to the house and arrested him. The man he had punched had hit his head on the floor and later died.

Jacob was put on bail. Because he had just turned 18 years, the nature of his alleged crime was deemed to be confidential. For two weeks, as evidence was being gathered, his own mother was not allowed to be told what her son was accused of. To make matters worse Ofsted suspended her from her job, on the grounds that she had failed to inform them that she had allowed a man facing a criminal charge to live in her house. Now, with her income cut off, she not only had to deal with a son waiting to be taken to court, but a mortgage to pay and Jacob’s younger brother to be put through school. Though Jacob received the minimum sentence for manslaughter, his mother had to face local media reports branding her son a killer, the taunting of his younger brother and, as she didn’t drive, and was no longer able to work at her old job,

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the unaffordable expense of visiting her son in a prison many miles from home. All this tipped her, once so good at sorting out other family’s problems, into a downward spiral of alcohol-related depression. By the time Jacob came out of prison he had begun to turn his life around, but it was too late to save his mother. His attempts to impress the social services and his local GP of the seriousness of his mother’s illness were ignored until it was too late.

“She was proud of the way I turned my life round”, he told me. But the stigma of the sentence had been too much for his mother to bear. Jacob, a convicted criminal, was able to sort himself out in prison, and is now studying to be a criminologist. His mother, blameless of any crime, suffered and died, feeling herself to be the failure.

After conviction families have to get used to significantly changed circumstances. The four visits a week which they were allowed during the remand stage are reduced to one a month. The prison may well be many miles away from the family home, requiring considerable expense to get there and back, particularly for multiple family members. The conditions on the visits can be deeply depressing. Prisons are not intended to be welcoming. Doors are unlocked and then locked again behind the visitor. Two or three times in some cases. If there have been drugs involved in the crime then children and adults have to run the gauntlet of body searches and sniffer dogs. As one family visitor I talked to, put it, “as soon as you walk through those doors, you feel you’re being judged. You feel like you’re a prisoner yourself” Once inside they meet their convicted family member in a large open interview room, under the watchful eye of uniformed prison staff, who will make sure that a child cannot run towards his father or mother for a hug, or vice versa. For partners too, where greetings or farewells are allowed, it’s closed-lip kisses only.

Besides these physical restrictions are the often much less tolerable emotional stresses, as the combination of separation, guilt and shame begins to take its toll. Often these stresses become too great for people to bear, and prison visits dry up, and the offender is left to find their place in a new family. The family of fellow prisoners. Some take refuge in their new family because

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they can’t face the old one. A probation officer I talked to saw many fathers unable to deal with the feeling that they had failed their familiy. They can sometimes barely recognise their own children, and certainly can’t remember their birthdays, I was told. Instead they fall back on the reassurance of prison routine, the removal of all the intolerable pressures that drove them to commit crimes in the first place. They embrace a world of order, routine and the relief of knowing exactly where the limits are.

Imagine then being swept up out of the prison and flown sixty, seventy, a hundred miles away to the family home and you will see there is no such feeling of reassurance and stability. The state may have done its work, and the court passed down its verdict. The offender may have been removed from the streets, but for those left behind there is no such thing as a comfortable conclusion. A mother has been removed from her children. Fathers find themselves unable to cope, children of 10 or 11 become the ones who have to run the household. Wives and mothers and husbands and partners find that they are ostracised, unable to keep their jobs because of their association with a lawbreaker. The children are bullied at school, or in trying to compensate for the shame of what has happened, become the bullies themselves. One woman, who’d been a social worker for 24 years, couldn’t control tears of frustration as she told me, “Old friends turn their back on you. People stop talking to the children”. Sometimes the parent or parents are unable to deal with the situation and have to see their children taken in by social services. The drink and drugs that might have precipitated the crime in the first place becomes a way for the innocent to deal with the stigma of life with a convicted criminal in the family, and the whole cycle begins again.

In prison not a lot can happen, the daily routine providing a regular if monotonous structure to life behind bars. For the family outside everything can happen, for they are in a world which has not been deliberately slowed down, but in many ways flung into overdrive as families try to rebalance their lives. In cases of serious crime they might have to deal with re-location and all the insidious pressures of living under police protection in a place with which they have no connection and where they have no friends. Daily life becomes a series of little lies and deceits as parents or relatives have to deal with the

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question of what to tell the children. One child had been told that their father had gone to work for the Queen, another that he was working at a police car- wash, another that their father was travelling abroad. The mother in question told me ruefully that her husband must have been round the world several times so often did she use this line. For those parents determined to maintain contact and tell children the truth, there are many obstacles in the way. The prison visits are strictly limited and can be traumatic for a child. Even babies have to be searched as desperate people will sometimes hide drugs inside nappies. The prison officers themselves hate this part of a job in which there is no way of avoiding hurt and intrusion. In an already soured atmosphere, emotional spontaneity is discouraged and displays of love and affection must be curbed. But a child who may recoil from the coldness of a prison visit cannot compensate by ringing their parent from home. Prisoners are not allowed incoming calls.

But, for many, the hardest part is still to come. And that is, ironically, when a sentence has been served and the offender steps out of prison, free at last. One woman I spoke to, who had served an eight year sentence, referred to what she described as a “Dunkirk Spirit” that prevailed when she was still in prison. A pulling together, a supreme effort by family and friends to make the best of the situation. On release, all the tensions, resentments, anger and hostility that this “Dunkirk Spirit” had suppressed for so long, spilled out. As she walked free she felt for the first time the pent-up anger and resentment that her children could no longer contain. The idea that the doors swing open and the prisoner is welcomed with open arms is a dangerous misconception. In her case she had to wait six years before her daughter felt able to give her a hug. Time had passed while she was inside, time that could never be recovered. Nothing was in the same place any more. The neat hole in family life, that she thought she had now come back to fill, had been filled by others in the years she’d been away. She had to accept the hard truth that relatives who had filled the breach since she was in prison were now much closer to her children than she was. And to make matters worse, the eldest of her five children had cracked under the responsibility of keeping the family together and in one mad moment, found himself in a fight. He was arrested, convicted

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of actual bodily harm and the whole cycle she had been through began again through her son. Punishment doesn’t end when the sentence has been served. For many, that’s when it’s just beginning.

There is a system specifically designed to help offenders and ex-offenders, and that is probation. Probation officers have to assess some people with special needs and very acute problems. A probation report can impact greatly on the families of the offender. It is a chance for the background of their lives to be examined and their special circumstances discussed. But, like many other areas of the justice system the Probation Service has been affected by cuts and reforms designed to save money. Though the most dangerous high- risk ex-offenders still remain within the National Probation Service, the 35 public sector probation trusts were last year broken up and replaced with 21 privately-run “community rehabilitation companies”

These have begun to cut human jobs in favour of automated facilities, which seems risky in an area where the efficacy of one to one help is generally accepted as the best way back. Those employed by the old Probation Service have had to put themselves up for re-employment with the new private providers. And they’re not happy about it. As one of them put it, “the worst thing has been the attack on our morale. We’ve got the message loud and clear that our work isn’t valued”

1800 staff have left the probation service in the last year. It’s hard to know how this loss of staff, specifically qualified to deal with unpopular and often dangerous people, can be squared with the oft-quoted commitment to reduce re-offending.

Some prison officers I spoke to felt that one aspect of the re-organisation of the probation system, the idea of “transformative rehabilitation”, was having exactly the opposite effect. Those with one-year sentences can now only be let out on licence. A single failure to meet any of the terms of the licence such as checking in for interview can result in them being taken straight back into custody. In practice this has resulted in a jump in numbers re-offending. This also raises the question of how many of the shortest custodial sentences are the best way to deal with the problem. A relative of a young offender told me

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paradoxically of how much more damaging shorter sentences can be than longer ones. They are predominantly served on younger males, many still in the education system. A year inside can mean the loss of GCSE qualifications which can set the offender at a huge disadvantage for the rest of their lives.

But I’m an optimist and my interest in the whole subject is to try and see the positive side and to try and do what I can to understand the problem and to help those who are directly involved in offering support to the families themselves. I want very much to see chinks of light in so many stories of unrelieved gloom – some hope that things might be getting better. That we can learn from all these heart-rending stories.

When seeing dark clouds, or looking for silver linings, two things must be remembered. One is that no two cases are ever the same. We are not dealing with a certain class of person, or a certain mindset, we are dealing with individual cases all different one from the other in the way that we are all different one from another.

The second thing to remind ourselves is that so much of the anecdotal evidence involves the potent combination of drugs, poverty and deprivation. From which one can only draw the conclusion that despite all the good work that is going on in the rehabilitation and re-education of offenders, there is nothing much that can be done whilst poverty is endemic in the system. The reality is pretty desperate. Figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2015 showed that 16 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Child poverty stood at nearly 19% and absolute child poverty at nearly 20%, That’s over 4 million children in poverty. And to be poor in our society is not the same as being poor in many of the places I’ve visited across the world. We are a developed country, and to be poor here is to have your nose pressed against a well-stocked window, with a finger constantly beckoning you to come inside. Possessions are power. The more you have the more you will be listened to, the less you have the more vulnerable you are to anything that will desensitise you from the real world.

So let’s not sit here and shake our heads about families who get into trouble and think that the answer is bigger prisons and a faster justice service. What

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we should be thinking about is how we can change a society that has 20% of its children in absolute poverty.

But, as people are fond of saying these days, we are where we are – which roughly translated means don’t blame me. If we are to be positive, we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged. We must look hard at what can be done, what is being done, and what needs to be done to help and support families of prisoners here and now.

The state has not had a great record in this area. Prison reform is not a vote- winner at the best of times, and certain sections of the media, though not of course, the Daily Telegraph, have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that they feel smacks of consideration for criminals. But something is clearly not working. The most recent report from HM Inspector of Prisons makes sober reading. “Outcomes reported on by the inspectorate”, it concluded, “had declined in all areas and were the worst for ten years”. The number of assaults in prison had increased, as had deaths in prison and attacks on staff. Overcrowding and staff shortages were blamed for this overall decline in safety.

The Government is aware of the problem. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice, pointed out in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference in July, that re-offending costs taxpayers £13 billion pounds a year. Almost two-thirds of those serving short sentences will return to prison within just a year of release. He echoed the conclusion of the Inspector of Prisons that even a small reduction in the prison population could free up sufficient cash to allow a lot more rehabilitation work.

He went on to declare that the biggest failure of all in the Criminal Justice system was, and I quote, “the failure in our prisons” and he called on all concerned to put a new and unremitting emphasis on reform, rehabilitation and redemption. Individuals should never be defined by their worst moments. Prisoners should not be seen as liabilities, but as assets. The cause of prison reform, he concluded, should inspire us all.

Fine words, very fine words, and it is encouraging to hear a government
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commit the state so unequivocally to rehabilitation and redemption. And in the last week we have seen encouraging signs that action will follow, with the announcement that some of the older, grimmer urban prisons are to be closed and sold off for housing. I must say, I can’t wait to see how the marketing boys run with this one. Will we soon be seeing The Scrubs Quarter ? Or Pentonvilletto, Luxury Living a stones throw from the City, or the Mansion on Brixton Hill – your very own executive escape ?

I’m delighted that the Justice Secretary is so firmly committed to prison reform, but I can’t help wondering how much he will be able to achieve when his own Chancellor is asking for 40% cuts across all unprotected departments.

Which brings me back to the theme of this lecture. That whatever grand plans are being made, one of the modest, but eminently achievable ways of tackling the problem of harassed staff and overcrowded gaols remains a matter of valuing, maintaining and encouraging family support. Government figures confirm that chances of re-offending are 39% higher among those who have not received visits in prison than in those who have. And yet figures also show that almost half of all offenders lose contact with their families when they go to prison.

Something clearly needs to be done to try and bridge this gap. If the Government accepts the implication that families are such an important element in their declared goal of rehabilitation, then they must make it a priority, not a side-issue. This requires effort and commitment right through the criminal justice system. It requires an investment in people as well as premises. People with the skill and the patience to deal with all the intricacies of family access including the damage done by separating mothers from their children. People qualified and experienced in detecting those with special needs, including mental health problems or learning difficulties, who shouldn’t be in prison in the first place. It means making better use of community penalties. There are practical improvements too. Like financial provision for visits. At present non-working parents receive assistance, parents who are working, albeit on a low wage, just to keep food on the table, have to pay for

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their own transport.
They should consider making the family more welcome in prisons, extending family days, providing areas in which the family can be reunited in a non- threatening environment with looser time limits. These have been found to be highly successful in maintaining family links. The provision of family and visitor centres outside prisons where family members can wait in comfort and security should be made a priority. A reduction in the cost of phone calls from prison, currently four times as expensive as BT landline charges, would encourage prisoners to keep in touch with their families. Greater use of ROTL – Release on Temporary License – would mean that important home visits could happen.
The National Offender Management Service is trying to address these issues, encouraging parents and children to stay in touch with more family days and in a couple of open prisons, facilities for children to sleep over for a night.

All these measures require extra resources. The more families that visit, the more prison staff have to be available to organise and supervise the facilities.

One of the areas in which state provision is markedly absent is in the availability of counselling and advice to families. A Family Engagement Workers scheme is proposed but is currently only at the planning stage. Many parents talked to me about the lack of awareness of their rights, their feeling of alienation, the lack of anyone to go to discuss the whole question of how much to tell the children, how to help children deal with provocation in school or how to readjust to life after the bread-winner is no longer there, and they are sinking into debt.

In all these areas, quite achievable improvements should deliver less troubled, better informed family relationships, more likely to resist re- offending. Having been inside a few prisons over the last fifteen years I can see this for myself. Most of the men’s institutions were pretty grim, but in a recent visit to Bronzefield High Security Women’s prison there seemed to be a real commitment to encouraging family contacts. There was a highly impressive mother and baby unit, in which mothers could have their children

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up to 18 months old, with them in prison, and various initiatives to enable offenders to engage with their children rather than suffer their rejection. And I have heard of Open Prisons where they were experimenting with family residential weekends. There is then, evidence from within the criminal justice system that family ties can be positive and productive. But this acknowledgement requires a bold and consistent strategy right across the system, but that is not yet happening and cannot be relied upon to happen.

One element in this whole debate which can be relied on is the existence of an active, committed, hard-working voluntary sector which keeps raising the issues, dispensing information, listening to the problems and finding ways of solving them. I sense that their help and support is going to be more and more important as the austerity programme bites. I have been a supporter of prison reform for some twenty years now, admiring and learning much from the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust, and, some fifteen yeras ago, being directed through them to the work of Action For Prisoners Families. The particular focus of their work attracted me, with its very simple message, that those who’ve done nothing wrong should not be judged as if they had. And that families can, with help, survive the trauma of incarceration. I remember attending their 21st birthday event at the House Of Lords, at which I met a woman whose daughter had been behind bars for five years. I commiserated and hoped all would be well on her release, only to hear that this was not due for another seven years. Something about the unquestioned steadfast love for her convicted daughter and her determination to stay in contact, struck a chord with me, and made me aware that any help I could give her, and others that might be inspired by her example, was both necessary and worthwhile. The goals of Action For Prisoners Families seemed to make very good sense morally and practically, but compared to charities in other fields, they were always under-funded.

Without Action For Prisoners Families, now part of Family Lives, and others in the voluntary sector like PACT, Clinks, Families Outside, The Prison Reform Trust and children’s charities such as Spurgeons and Barnados, I’m pretty sure that the families of prisoners would have remained a neglected group, at the very bottom of the list of priorities in the criminal justice system. It is the

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voluntary sector which doggedly keeps the issue on the agenda. It is the voluntary sector that tries to combat loss and social isolation by encouraging contact with those in the same situation. It is the voluntary sector that runs helplines to try and reach those who have fallen through the bureaucratic net and are in danger of abandoning the family links altogether. It is the voluntary sector that continues to push for better conditions for families visiting prisons, takes the time to explain to families and prisoners alike, their legal rights, provides mentoring where necessary and works hard to ensure that prisoners are moved nearer home as their release date approaches. It is the voluntary sector that runs parenting schemes to try and repair relationships which have been ruptured by a prison sentence. It is the voluntary sector that provides many of the family engagement workers who visit prisons to help overworked staff.

They should not be left to do it alone.

We have the highest prison population in Europe, apart sometimes from Spain, and one of the most expensive. It costs £36,000 a year to keep someone in prison. That’s £2000 a year more than it costs to send someone to Eton, which produces many more cabinet ministers than Strangeways. Up to 200,000 children have a parent in prison each year, which is more than all the children affected by divorce in a year, and 17,000 of these children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment . Compared to their peers, children of prisoners have about three times the risk of developing mental health problems. Our population is growing, as is the gulf between rich and poor. There will be less money in the criminal justice system but ever greater need. There is increasing dependence on private companies and competitive tendering to fill the gap. Time is money and yet time and patience and understanding is an essential part of administering a system in which all cases are different. And time and patience cannot be monetized.

The government recognizes that the key to any improvements will have to be in the reduction in prison numbers. That means making sure that they tackle, head-on, the enormous problem of re-offending. This, I submit, is where they have common cause with all those of us who recognize the need for the better

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understanding and treatment of the families of prisoners. Let us come together to recognise the need for statutory support for children or adults affected by imprisonment. Not just as a moral duty but as one of the keystones, holding together our criminal justice system.

I thank everyone from voluntary groups to the Ministry of Justice for so willingly and generously providing help and information for this lecture, but most of all I am in debt to the prisoners and their families who have talked with me so frankly and so passionately.

They are the voices which need to be heard. The voices from inside prisons, from inside communities, from inside families. They have so much to teach us, and if we are prepared to learn and listen, we can go some way to making our prisons places not of fear and violence but, to echo the fine words of the Justice Secretary , of reform, rehabilitation and redemption.

Thank You.

Michael Palin London November 2015

 

James and Mick: RJ in ACTION

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“I always thought that no one gave a sh** about me so why should I give a sh** about anyone else? I thought if you’d had my life you’d do the same. When I heard him tell me that he’d had a very very similar life to mine it floored me. Here was somebody that had it as bad as me and didn’t make the same choices I did. Then hearing how much I’d hurt him and his family, that was really hard. What hit home more than anything and what I don’t think I will ever get over is what he said at the end of the meeting” James, wounding and armed robbery had met Mick, the man he stabbed and robbed.

 At the end of the meeting Mick looked James in the eye and said…

“I want you to listen to this more than you’ve ever listened to anything else. You said no one gives a sh** about you so you don’t care about other people. Well I give a sh** about you and I want you to know that I forgive you but you need to prove to me that you mean it when you say you’re sorry for what you did. You don’t just owe me that you owe yourself. How do you prove it? Stop blaming your past and concentrate on your future”

Domestic Violence and RJ- Ever Possible?

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I had a few issues with Theresa May’s recent comments regarding RJ and Domestic violence. In regards to her experiences of Police facilitated RJ and DV she said…

“…Or the officers who put victims of serious domestic violence into a room with their attacker in the name of restorative justice, with no consideration of the psychological and emotional damage that can cause. I know that restorative justice is meant to be victim-led and I know that guidance says it should be considered in all cases. But I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators who for months and years may have destroyed their confidence, manipulated their mind, and beaten their bodies.”

The issues I had with this were:

  • In 20 years of practice we have NEVER simply ‘put victims into a room’ with the person responsible for any crime committed against them. There’s quite a lot more involved than that.
  • We extensively consider, explore, discuss and address the potential ‘psychological and emotional’ risks involved in any restorative process- this frequently takes the form of very close working partnerships/consultations with a wide range of specialist support providers.
  • As a restorative practitioner for 15 years I don’t believe restorative processes are ‘victim led’, I don’t believe a genuinely restorative approach is ‘led’ by either side involved more than the other.
  • ‘Considered’ in all cases does not mean automatically delivered in all cases.
  • ‘I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators’  Not a fan of restorative processes then? Many victims of many offences are ‘vulnerable’- We don’t believe this in and of itself constitutes a reason for victims to be denied access to a process which may significantly assist in reducing that vulnerability

Let me be really clear- I absolutely 100% accept that Domestic Violence offences MUST be assessed with a huge degree of sensitivity and awareness of the potentially huge power imbalances and manipulation that may very well be there. Given that is the case I don’t believe there will ever be a situation where a restorative intervention is a common response to a domestic violence offence. BUT, and its a BIG BUT, I think it is fundamentally wrong to say a restorative approach is NEVER a viable option in regard to DV. We have undertaken a number of cases- 100% at the victim’s behest, 100% supported throughout by the specialist support/care provider working with the victim which have resulted in significant benefits to the victim.

In preparing to write this response I spoke to a service user of ours, Susan (name changed). Susan had suffered a huge degree of violence and resultant suffering throughout a 12 year relationship. This violence had resulted in her hospitalisation on 10 separate occasions. With the help of a support agency she felt able to leave the relationship and after a significant period of support she was able to move on to a place of safety. With the help of the charity supporting her Susan felt able to approach the Police. As a result her former partner was imprisoned. Susan is one of the bravest, most empowered and  most inspirational people it has ever been my privilege to meet.

After 2 years Susan was watching TV one night when she, by chance, happened to catch a documentary which featured ‘Restorative Justice’. The day after, following a huge anount of research and numerous phone calls she identified a ‘Restorative Justice’ service local to her. She said “I was so excited when I found the number I couldn’t wait to ring them. This is what I had been looking for” So she rang. She outlined her experiences and said that she would like to talk to someone about the possibility of ‘doing’ RJ. The response she received, which she says she will never forget was, “I’m really sorry but we don’t do Domestic Violence cases”. When Susan asked why she was told “Its just too dangerous and could do more than harm than good and we have a responsibility to protect you”

Now whilst I think the language used was hugely inappropriate I can sort of see where this person was coming from and I absolutely don’t, for one minute, think that they had any intention of making Susan feel re-victimised or  disempowered or excluded. Unfortunately however that is EXACTLY how Susan was left feeling. She said,

“I couldn’t believe it. It felt like what I thought didn’t matter, that I was clearly incapable of making decisions for myself. I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime and I just didn’t think it was fair”

She hung up.

Later that week following an internet search Susan phoned our office. Afterwards she explained, “I was quite angry when I phoned up because I was expecting the same response I’d had before but it wasn’t like that. The lady on the phone listened to everything I had to say. When I finished she explained that Remedi didn’t have an office where I lived but that she would speak to her manager and that she’d phone me back. To be honest I thought ‘yeah of course you will’!”

Despite her suspicions to the contrary we phoned her back. We agreed to fund the case ourselves and made arrangements to visit her.

Four months of extensive discussions with Susan, her support worker, the offender manager involved with her ex partner and subsequently her ex partner later it was agreed that a direct meeting would be arranged.

The meeting took place in a neutral setting in a location away from her current location and extensive ground-rules discussed and agreed prior to the meeting taking place.

In the meeting Susan did most of the talking. She had prepared notes which she wanted to refer to, “I took my notes so I didn’t miss anything I wanted to say and ended up not needing them. When I started talking, everything I wanted to say, had wanted to say for years, just poured out. The main thing I wanted to say was to tell him I wasn’t frightened of him anymore, that I was in control of my life and to make him listen, really listen, to the horror he had put me through. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t that person anymore and I really hoped he would get help so he never made anyone else suffer like I had. I just needed him to see that he wasn’t in control of me anymore”

Her ex partner listened to what Susan said and when offered the opportunity to respond said that he had started to access support whilst in prison and that this had continued after his release from custody. He then said “All I can say is I’m sorry. I know thats not enough”

Susan responded saying “You’re right its not enough. Actions speak louder than words- you’ve got to prove it by never hurting anyone again. That’s all I’ve got to say”

This meeting took place 14 months ago. When I spoke to Susan about writing this piece I asked her what taking part in a restorative process meant to her?, what did she get out of it? Her response will stay with me for a long time- so much so that I asked her to email it to me so I didn’t mis quote her. Here’s what she said,

“I felt like I had taken the power back that had been taken from me over 12 years. I felt stronger, I felt in control and for the first time I didn’t feel like a victim anymore. I know we tend to talk about being a ‘survivor’ now more than ‘victim’ but I’m not to keen on that either because it feels like being put in a box. I think I was a victim who was then a survivor and now, now I’m Susan again”

Part Two

The biggest problem I have with the example Ms May gave in her speech is that what she outlines and what was done was not, and never has been, a restorative process. The fact is, however, that whoever delivered it described it as ‘restorative justice’ and as such I have some sympathy as a result with her reaction and subsequent condemnation of RJ. The challenge facing the restorative world is to challenge this type of ridiculous activity being described as ‘restorative’ whenever and wherever possible as it threatens the huge amount of superb work being undertaken on a daily basis up and down the country which is truly ‘restorative’ in each and every case. Simply calling an activity ‘restorative’ doesn’t make it so.

Epilogue

Susan continues to be Susan. She now works as a support worker with women who have suffered violence and the last words should be hers.

“I have heard people say that Restorative isn’t suitable for cases like mine. All I can say is talk to me, talk to women like me, be honest and be open and listen to what we say. I agree it isn’t for everyone but please don’t just automatically take that choice away. There’s a lot of talk about putting victims at the heart of things. Well if you truly believe that please don’t exclude them from making choices”

Steve Jones, Director, Remedi

Adele’s Story

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“I have known for years that I wanted the opportunity to sit down with my father and ask the questions that were important to me. Things that never got asked in court, that no one ever talked about and that some people around me told me I shouldn’t ask. Why? I needed the chance to know I’d asked the questions, had my say, even if I didn’t get any answers. Remedi supported me throughout all of that and took it all at a pace that suited me. A year later I finally sat down with my father in prison.

I felt safe, I felt strong and I felt like the one with the power for the first time in my life.

From the moment we left the prison, ask anyone that knows me, my life has been better. I feel like I’ve shifted a weight off my shoulders. I will never forget and I don’t think I will ever forgive but I know, for the first time really, that I will find it easier to move forward. I am no longer thinking about getting through today or tomorrow, I’m planning my future. I cant thank you enough”

Adele had been raped and assaulted by her father from the ages of 10 to 17. At 32 she was supported in meeting him in prison