Restorative justice can help stop the merry-go-round of crime

By Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire police commissioner

SOMETIMES crime seems like a never-ending merry-go-round — though it’s not so merry for victims.

Crimes are committed, the police investigate and, hopefully, make arrests.

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Offenders go to court and are sent to prison. Then they come out and start their criminal behaviour all over again.

At every stage it costs all of us considerable amounts of public money that could be far better spent on schools or the NHS.

Does nothing bring about real change?

Recently I met two Rotherham residents who made me think a little differently.

I talked to a man who has been a prolific burglar over many years and who has been in and out of prison many times.

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But last year he realised that if he carried on like this, the second half of his life would just be a repetition of the first and would have amounted to little.

“I was in a dark world,” he said, “and lost in drugs.”

He also thought something else. He wondered for the first time in his life what his crimes had done to the victims.

As it happens, I support something in South Yorkshire called Restorative Justice.

It’s run by the charity Remedi and enables offenders and their victims to have contact — where both want it and in a safe and managed way.

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In this case, one of the offender’s victims agreed to meet him.

I then had a conversation with his victim, who told me her story. I wondered what she thought she would get from the encounter.

She said she wanted him to hear how his theft of items of great sentimental value, now lost forever, had caused her heartache and how the burglary had made her fearful in the house afterwards.

But she was also a very generous person who, if she could, wanted to support him if he genuinely wanted to turn his life round.

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She said she had been lucky in life and wanted to give something back.

He told me that when she said this he “broke up” and knew he had to change.

Restorative justice is not for everyone and it does not always have such positive results.

But it is there for victims of any type of crime if they think it will help them to get answers to some of their own questions and if the offender is willing to take part.  

It’s one way we can stop the merry-go-round of crime.