I had visions of the ultraviolent Alex from A Clockwork Orange. The State had taken ownership of his crimes. First through retributive justice via imprisonment, then distributive justice using therapeutic treatment where he was forced to watch violent images as part of his aversion therapy. Here was a teenage boy being treated like a lab rat, himself now a victim of violence at the hands of the authorities.
Our aim was to educate, to show the negative effects not only for the direct and indirect victims but also on the wrongdoer. Following a workshop at a Criminal Justice event I was approached by the Head Teacher of a High School. She shook me warmly by the hand and thanked me for taking a restorative approach towards knife crime.
Restorative approach? I thought that I had taken a common sense approach. After all, if you can show a wrongdoer how their actions impact on the wider community and if you can give the victim of wrongdoing a chance to get an explanation then surely its plain old common sense. What is a family discussion around the dinner table but a restorative conference with food?
If education and mediation can be used effectively then this makes sense not only in a humanitarian way but also it makes financial sense. It is estimated that in the UK diverting young offenders from community orders to a pre-court restorative justice scheme would produce a lifetime saving of £7,050 per offender.
Over the years I have worked with young people who have committed a variety of offences. Many of whom put the ultra violent Alex in the shade. The offences I have dealt with range from low level criminal damage through to sex offences and murder.
What is it that drives young people into a life of crime? There is the age old debate between nature and nurture. Is it learned behaviour or is this young person just plain bad? Of course it is much more complex than that. Poverty, peer pressure, boredom, substance misuse, experimentation, the list goes on. However it is very rare that a young person, when confronted with their wrongdoing, is incapable of showing empathy.
Most young people who have committed a wrong doing whether it is breaking school rules, family rules or society’s rules, if given a chance to analyse their behaviour , will show empathy. It is at this point, this crucial point that the right form of action is taken to prevent the young person from making the same mistakes.
Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm caused rather than taking the punitive route. For instance, a young person sprays graffiti on school premises. The punitive approach would be prosecution followed by a court case, a fine, a criminal record and a bad reputation. The effect on the wrongdoer would be a negative experience with feelings of resentment, and reduced opportunities.
The restorative approach would be to explain to the young person that their behaviour is unacceptable. The young person would be allowed to analyse their actions and come to an informed choice as to how to put things right. This could mean engaging in positive activities where the young person could express themselves artistically by doing community arts projects.
The outcome would be one less person in the criminal justice system, the community would see that the wrongdoer has taken responsibility for their actions and the school makes good community relations.
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