All About Indirect Restorative Justice
We talk a lot about Restorative Justice being a face-to-face meeting, with both parties in the same room and having a conversation, facilitated by trained practitioners. But not everyone wants that face-to-face experience. Restorative Justice can take many forms.
Choosing Restorative Justice where the offender and the victim don’t meet in the same room is known as indirect Restorative Justice and there are lots of options available.
In short, it’s up to the victim and the offender to choose how they would like to engage in Restorative Justice, and some of the indirect Restorative Justice options are:
Passing messages through an RJ Facilitator
In today’s blog post, we’re going to be looking at some of the Restorative Justice options that you might wish to consider.
Face-to-Face Restorative Justice
For some people, the face-to-face option is exactly what they want and there are lots of reasons why they choose that. The most common reason for choosing face-to-face Restorative Justice is that both participants can see and hear each other, and communicate in ‘real-time’. They can ask their own questions and instantly receive a response.
They can also make their own assessments of sincerity and honesty, without relying on a facilitator’s interpretation. This direct approach can bring an element of informality that can help both parties relax.
While the purpose of the meeting is to talk about the harm caused and whether it’s possible to do anything to help repair that harm, we find that many of the meetings have facilitated end with both parties having a cup of tea while the paperwork is being finished.
One victim of crime recently recalled: “We ended up swapping recipes for cheesecake. I never could have guessed that would happen. That gave me a real insight into the man he was now. Up until that point, he was only ‘the offender’ to me.”
This is not the option that everyone chooses, for various personal reasons. For some people, the idea of being in the same room as the person who harmed them is too frightening to contemplate. For others, work commitments and family life mean that they cannot commit to an uninterrupted time to meet.
Where prisons are involved, geography can play a deciding factor – if an offence happens in West Yorkshire, but the offender is now in a prison miles away in Kent, a harmed party may not have the time or desire to travel but may still have things to say, questions they want answered, or things they want to know.
Prisons themselves can also be a factor in the choice that parties make – for some, the idea of meeting the person who harmed them may be stressful enough, but the idea of that meeting being in a prison may be a step too far.
Letter writing is a popular method of indirect Restorative Justice. Both victims and offenders are supported every step of the way by Restorative Justice facilitators.
One participant keeps her letter in the back of her wallet; “sometimes [the offence] all feels like a nightmare. It can never be undone, but on the days where things feel particularly bad, I can go back to that letter. I can see where [the offender] has changed. It’s there in black and white, and it brings me comfort.”
One of the biggest challenges that come with letter writing is literacy. Not everyone can read and write to the same level. A paper published by The Literacy Trust in 2008 found that 60% of the UK prison population had difficulties in basic literacy skills.
For example, an offender who left school as a teenager and quickly started shoplifting. This led to burglaries, and a lot of time coming in and out of prison. Education was not a priority for him and his literacy was assessed as being not much beyond that of a 10-year-old. He agreed to take part in Restorative Justice (RJ) at the request of one of his victims, who could not meet with him but who had questions about the offence.
That particular victim requested a response in writing – specifically, in his own handwriting. The offender was happy to write a letter, but even his most careful and conscientious work was badly spelled and poorly written. Facilitators had managed the expectations of the harmed party, who was happy to accept it because they recognised it to have taken time and effort which in turn they interpreted as authentic.
This also highlights the necessity of trained facilitators in work like this – the same letter arriving unannounced to the victim could have been interpreted as disrespectful, the work of someone who put in minimal effort and who didn’t show any concern for their victim.
In one of the cases we worked on, a request was made from a family member of someone who had been killed by a young man who was now in prison. The family member wanted the young man to explain his actions, and there were some specific questions that he was asked to answer.
Initially, he had stated that he could write the letter himself without support. Some weeks passed, and he said that he was having difficulties. “What words do I use to describe what I did? Do I say I killed them? I murdered them? I stabbed them? It looks really bad just seeing it there in black and white.”
We all have our own ways of describing things that we have done, or that have happened to us. Someone using different language can be jarring. Difficulties in being able to describe what happened can be mistaken for minimising, graphic detail can be mistaken for callousness.
In this instance, facilitators asked the family member what terminology they would prefer the young man to use when describing the offence. Once the man was aware of what they wanted, he was able to complete his letter to the family.
Likewise, people who do not share a common language can face similar difficulties with letter writing. A recent English speaker, when writing a letter of apology to a Polish woman, discovered that although she intended to say “you should not feel unsafe when you’re at work”, her words roughly translated into “I am insecure when I’m working”, which was not her intention at all.
In Restorative Justice, facilitators make use of interpreting and translation services in cases like this to ensure that what is intended to be said is the same as what is actually being said.
Subjectivity is the biggest issue faced by letter writing. An entire family can read the same letter but each interprets the message in different (and sometimes contradictory) ways. One may be satisfied that the message is sincere, and another may be unconvinced. One may feel that there is too much detail, and another may believe that the writer is being evasive.
Audio & Video Recordings
Audio and video recordings provide many of the benefits of a face-to-face meeting, such as being able to better judge tone, intent, and sincerity. Given that most people now have a phone with video and audio recording, this can be an easy and convenient method of communicating.
One participant reflected: “I recorded my message, watched it back, noticed a couple of things that weren’t coming across right, so I redid it until I was satisfied with it.”
One woman who listened to a recording made by the perpetrator of an offence against her. She concluded: “I believe what he says. I accept the apology he’s made. That was a personal message between him and me and now I’m drawing a line under it”, before permanently deleting the message.
The recent COVID pandemic also turned attention to Restorative Justice online through video calls. This is a medium that some people have enthusiastically engaged with.
One participant explained: “I’m still having a conversation, I can still see the person who harmed me, but I’m not in the same room as them. I feel safe. If that changes, I can end the meeting at the touch of a button, and that makes me feel confident.”
Other people are not comfortable with video calls: “I don’t want to hear her [harmer] voice in my home. My home is where I feel safe – she doesn’t get to come in here.”
There is no one, universal way of engaging with a Restorative Justice process. Participants choose the way that works for them.
If you are considering Restorative Justice, but the idea of a face-to-face meeting is not for you, there are options available.
Whatever you decide, you will be supported by trained practitioners who will work towards helping you achieve the outcome you choose.