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Raising awareness of restorative justice

27 November 2012

To mark Restorative Justice Week 2012, Christopher Hickin, Remedi Assistant Director, tells us of his experience of the subject. Remedi’s Sheffield Safer Schools Partnership, funded as part of BIG’s Realising Ambition programme, launches in January 2013.

School classroom

Remedi will work with three secondary schools in Sheffield

Three years ago I was asked to go into a school and deliver a session on victim awareness as part of the schools anti-bullying week. Standing in front of class of 10-11 year olds trying to explain restorative approaches and victim empathy was a little different to the experience I’d had previously with the local Youth Justice Service.

I was trying to convey how the emotional impacts of conflicts or incidents can last much longer than the physical effects. I asked the class if they’d ever been injured in an accident or broken a bone. Everyone’s hand shot up.

For the rest of session they regaled me with stories of falling off skateboards and jumping out of tree houses. Getting them to talk about that was easy, but when most of them got home and were asked by their parent or carer what they did at school, they would’ve said “I talked about the time I rode my bike off the garage roof and broke my arm”.

Restorative thinking takes a little longer than a one-off 45-minute session.

The concept of restorative justice has gathered substantial momentum since then but it’s been very much about the justice element. Certainly Remedi has specialised in using restorative justice in both the youth and adult criminal justice systems over the last 16 years, through victim offender mediations, group work and community reparation. However, I feel that in order to truly embed restorative justice within our criminal justice system, we must also be striving to embed restorative approaches and thinking into everyday walks of life.

For the most part, when we contact victims of crime to offer them the opportunity to be involved in a restorative intervention, it is coming out of left field. Ask the man or women on the street if they have heard of restorative justice, my guess is that most haven’t.

Restorative Justice Week and the profile raising that has been achieved through the media is integral, but wouldn’t it be great if when we called a victim and explained restorative justice, they understood the idea because that’s how they were taught at school or that’s how a dispute with a neighbour was dealt with.

That’s what we are aiming for with the work we are doing as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Realising Ambition programme. We will be working with three secondary schools (and their feeder schools) in Sheffield over a five-year period.

We will be taking a two-pronged approach in that we will be both reactive and proactive to conflicts. We will look to use restorative interventions to address conflicts that occur in and around the school (including community and family) as well as doing the proactive work in training pupils, staff and educating the community in the principals of restorative practice.

The concept of restorative justice, practice and approaches is actually fairly simple, but that’s where the mistake is made. Simple ends up being translated to easy, quick and cheap. My hope with the Realising Ambition project is that we have the time and resources to truly embed restorative approaches in those schools and out of the front gates, spreading into communities and families.

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