By Siobhan McElnea, Probation Officer based in the Victim Information Scheme unit.
When a crime has been committed there is an opportunity for learning. In the context of the criminal justice systems, restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law, with a need for punishment. Restorative practice is involved with repairing the harm done, balancing power differentials and enabling accountability. It is seen as a shared approach to problem solving for individuals, families and the community.
I have just been presented with my Level 4 Diploma in Restorative Practice and Processes. The process of gaining this award has been invaluable in my role within the PBNI Victim Information Unit as it has provided me with a much greater understanding of the impact on victims and offenders of the harm caused. The process itself, to gain the award, was challenging as I had to think creatively to enable processes to occur. Whilst Restorative Practice is based on social science theories, the application of theories can only be evidenced through practice.
To evidence best practice I was required to complete the full continuum of what constitutes Restorative Practice. As these processes are voluntary for all parties and require integrity and safety, I was required to make decisions to halt, or alter, the processes on occasions for the well-being of either or both parties. Whilst this was disappointing for both or one of the parties and myself, the well-being and safety of all involved is paramount. What could have been completed in one year actually took two and a half years to complete. This shows the complexities involved in this type of work, along with the need to apply restorative principles. However, the positive outcomes for all parties was clearly observed.
Restorative practice is involved with repairing the harm done, balancing power differentials and enabling accountability.
I have participated in several strategic consultations, ‘The Adult Restorative Justice Strategy’, ‘The Sentencing Review’ and more recently the ‘Victim and Witness Strategy’ within which restorative practice is very applicable. It is also clear that PBNI are very well placed to play an integral part of these new initiatives, and outcomes. This is evidenced by our PBNI Corporate Plan 2020-23 were we commit to ‘developing restorative practices with adults who have offended’ and prioritising victims, alongside our Business Plan 2020-21 of developing a Restorative Justice Practice framework within Probation which will be informed by the DoJ Adult Restorative Justice Strategy.
The aim of PBNI is ‘changing lives for safer communities’. I feel embedding Restorative Practice with offenders, victims and communities would enhance the work we already complete in meeting this aim, and personally look forward to seeing this put into action.