A Volunteer’s Perspective: Interview With Volunteer RJ Practitioner Adrian HughesFriday 15th March 2019
Adrian Hughes has been involved with Restorative Solutions In Hampshire for over two years, volunteering as a restorative justice practitioner, and has also volunteered with the Victim Care service. In December 2018, Adrian won the Special Recognition Award at the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner's Safer Awards for his volunteer work. Adrian spoke to Restorative Solutions about his involvement with RJ, and why he thinks it’s important.
How did you get involved with RJ?
I decided to give up full time work two years ago. I saw an ad in a local magazine asking for volunteers to support people harmed by crime, or harmers in crime, to provide restorative conversations. My background is in social work, so RJ appealed to me, as it’s about bringing people together who have shared an experience from very different viewpoints. If they remain in isolation, this doesn’t allow them to move forward.
What training did you do?
The interview process and application were an important part of getting involved, so that both myself and Restorative Solutions could work out if it was the right fit. Part of the selection process was three days of intensive training led by Michelle West, which was very good. The training involved a good cross section of people; for example, some were church elders who wanted to use RJ in the church environment. There was lots of information about principles and key concepts, and the majority of the training was about understanding the principles of working with people when they have been harmed by crime, or when they have been harmers. We also did a lot of role play, which was very helpful.
Were you nervous about anything when you started?
I was a bit nervous about meeting the harmers - they are such a diverse range of individuals. I knew I wouldn’t be dropped in at the deep end, but I knew that I’d have to speak to people who had committed some very serious crimes. The training really came into play, and I was able to be completely impartial. It’s not about judgement, it’s about bringing people together.
I’ve now been to visit harmers in prison twice. This has been a whole new experience for me, as I’d never been to a prison before, and I didn’t know what to expect. I visited Winchester Prison just as it was put into special measures, which was quite daunting. Because RJ has to be voluntary on both sides, there is a perception that harmers get involved because they want to reduce their sentences. All of the harmers whom I’ve been involved with have wanted to participate because they wanted to give something back, say sorry, and explain what they were going through at the time.
RJ is one approach that suits some people, but it won’t work for everyone. Sometimes victims want to engage, and the offenders don’t - this is a brave step for the victims, and it can be disappointing for them. The ongoing training and support is brilliant, as it helps me to deal with whatever is thrown at me. Managing expectations is key. Explaining that it’s a two way process is important, as the offender sometimes doesn’t want to go ahead. However, that’s not the end of the story, as they can still help victims by being willing to engage in the first place.
Even approaching the service can be restorative in itself. The prize isn’t necessarily the conference; sometimes it’s the process of engaging with a victim, hearing their story, and understanding what they’ve been through. On this level, RJ can be a huge help to victims, even if they don’t end up getting to a conference.
The RJ Hampshire process has been victim-led until now. It will take quite a bit of work now for harmer-led RJ to happen. The harm-led process can be very empowering for victims, but it can also be the opposite for victims if the harmer contacts them, so additional training will be required.
(Restorative Solutions’ programme of training and CPD for practitioners is ongoing and reflects the nature of cases being referred to the service.)
What’s the most valuable thing about RJ?
It’s about accountability. If you’ve harmed someone, you may not be accountable until you begin to have a system that will encourage and support people to be accountable for their actions. RJ is a way of making sure that, as a society, we don’t just have crimes and punishments. Life is more complicated than that. RJ helps people to face up to what they have done, and to appreciate the impact that they’ve had on other people.
A lot of offenders see crime as victimless, and this isn’t the case - for example, when burgling a house, the offenders are working the house, not its residents. The restorative process makes it about people and values.
Helping people to understand what victims go through is also part of RJ. If you just punish people you don’t get answers. People who haven’t been touched by crime often don’t understand how important it is to get answers, closure, and understanding.
Case Study: A Positive Example Of RJ.
I worked with a chap who was a security guard in a nightclub, and was attacked by someone who’d had too much to drink and been removed from the club. The man was both physically and mentally injured by the incident. He wanted to engage with RJ because he wanted the attacker to understand the impact of what had happened to him.
The security guard was a married man with young children, and had been working at the club as a second job for extra money, and not, as he said, because he wanted to be “aggressive or powerful”. He wanted the offender to understand the impact on his family, and also to understand the risk of death that he underwent when he went to work. He knew that if he was to go to his other job with a black eye, they would make assumptions about him and the kind of person that he was. Police had not responded as the victim had hoped. He was irritated because he felt that the police just perceived it as a “dodgy bit of town”.
The harmer refused to take part in the process, however the victim did find it very helpful. The police liaison officer was able to talk to the victim about how the police could have been more helpful and responsive after the incident. This was a hugely positive outcome for the victim as it changed both of their perceptions. Both the security guard and the police are there to reduce crime, and they were able to have an open and honest discussion about the police’s attitude to the attack.
The harmer was so drunk during the incident that he didn’t see any value in taking part. Although this was disappointing, the outcome in this case was still really positive for the victim, as he had been empowered to seek help and to have a restorative discussion, which helped him to move on.
RJ is so valuable, and not only for the crime process. Restorative practice is great for working together with people in any field. Within education, for example, RJ can be hugely valuable.
What are five key questions or principles of RJ?
The five key questions I ask during an RJ meeting are:
“What has happened?” (To both parties)
“What were you thinking?” (To both parties)
“What were you feeling?” (To both parties)
“Who has been affected by what has happened?” (Both parties, but could also be for the police, families, wives, husbands, friends, family of the harmer, etc.)
“What needs to happen next - what restorative actions can be taken to enable people to move on?” (To both parties).
One of the main principles of RJ is preparation. Lots of preparation has to be undertaken before a conference so that there are no surprises; we also have to proceed at the right pace for the person who has been harmed, so that they are ready too.
I’m looking forward to continuing to work in RJ through Restorative Solutions, volunteering for victim support and acting as an ambassador for RJ. In the appropriate situation, I’m able to raise RJ as a possibility for people who have been harmed by crime. I’m also able to talk to other volunteers working with victims through RJ.
Hate crime can be a controversial topic. Why is that?
Being burgled is horrible, but being harmed by hate crime is also horrible. There shouldn't be a hierarchy of harm. Victims often say, “I'm sure you deal with worse cases than me”, and I say, “Yes, but how has this affected you?” For some people, a crime can be the worst thing that's happened in their life. It's not a competition. If you are going to live in a free society where people aren't persecuted, you take all types of crime seriously.
A new pilot project dealing with Hate Crime has been launched in Hampshire.
A pilot has been set up to work on low level hate crime. There is now a system in place whereby when hate crime has occured, the police can discharge the harmer with a caution, on the condition that the person engages with Restorative Justice. They don't have to go through the whole process, but they do have to meet with the RJ team.
The victim is asked if they want to take part, and if the victim says yes, then they follow the usual restorative processes. If the victim says that they don't want to, the perpetrator has to take part in a two hour workshop covering the topic of hate crime, its impact, and why it's not right and not to be tolerated.
One case study was a homophobic hate crime committed against the offender’s neighbour. The offender believed that it was acceptable to abuse his neighbour in this way. By the end of the process, although it may or may not have changed his perspective, it did give him information about the effects of hate crime, and the impact that hate crime has on victims.
To find out more about the RJ services which are available in Hampshire, or if you would be interested in becoming a volunteer RJ practitioner for the service, visit https://www.rjhampshire.org.uk/.