As one of my last engagements before Christmas, it was a particular pleasure to launch the new Kent-wide Restorative Justice service at Compass House in Ashford. The service has been introduced by Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott.
Like me, Matthew is a great supporter of Restorative Justice, which means victims of crime are allowed to ask questions and tell their stories directly to the person who committed the crime against them. It has proved to be an effective way to reduce re-offending and to allow the victims of crime to feel that they have obtained full justice.
I should declare a personal interest as the original national action plan for Restorative Justice was introduced when I was at the Ministry of Justice responsible for policies to help victims of crime. This emphasis on victims as the most important people was new at the time, but is now very widely accepted.
At the launch, which took place at the advice hub for victims and witnesses, the most powerful example of how effective Restorative Justice can be came from Kent’s Chief Constable Alan Pughsley. He remembered one of the most prolific burglars he had known, who was eventually confronted by one of his victims. As a direct result, suddenly dozens of break-ins stopped happening, to the obvious huge benefit not only of innocent householders but also in the use of police time.
The psychology behind Restorative Justice is clear. Most criminals have no empathy with the victims of their crimes, which is one reason they commit them. Often the first time they ever have to consider the effect of what they do is when a victim explains it to them. At this point some criminals change their ways. Of course not all do, but enough do to make Restorative Justice worth trying.
Already in Kent more than fifty people have been referred to the service, which will be run by the Community Interest company Restorative Solutions. A combination of professional staff and trained volunteers arrange and supervise the meetings. It is free, and entirely voluntary.
With that positive message I will sign off this column for 2017. It has been a pretty difficult year in a number of ways, so I hope everyone enjoys Christmas, and that we all move into calmer waters in 2018. Happy Christmas to you all.