Photo by Neslihan Ozfaris, Coventry Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace and Reconciliation (LMPC). From left to right: Carol Rank, LMPC; Stuart Randall, Coventry Police; Claire Ewell and Cheryl Gregory, Coventry Restorative Justice Team; Councillor Pervez Akhtar; Philip Brown, LMPC; Barbara Tudor, Probation Service; Thomas Murtagh and Sonja Astley, Coventry University
On 2 July some of the members of the newly formed Coventry Restorative Justice Forum met with Councillor Pervez Akhtar to discuss the current state and future of Restorative Justice within the City. Philip Brown described the mapping exercise that the Forum are doing to find out who is doing what, and the RJ conference they are planning for November.
Councillor Akhtar was extremely supportive of what the Forum is doing and said:
RJ is a way of giving a fair voice to victims and of bringing communities together to tackle the issues the United Kingdom faces. We have the best legal system in the world and yet two million people are victims of domestic violence in our country, gun and knife crime is going up, and this is not acceptable.
Every school should have some form of RJ. It would help to reduce exclusion of children. Both the police and local authorities are facing massive financial cuts so it is up to our communities, up to our society, to play our part.
Coventry should be at the heart of restorative justice. We need to change the mindset of people. We are a city of Peace and Reconciliation and we can utilise that position and the City of Culture to promote RJ. It should be part of our city.
Claire Ewell said that some schools are very interested in RJ and are keen for the Coventry Restorative Justice Team to go in and deal with issues that arise. Carol Rank pointed out that RJ works best if it is adopted as a “whole school approach”. Every teacher needs to understand the process and use it in their everyday dealing with unwanted behaviour.
Philip Brown gave an example of a teacher who had fully adopted RJ. One day she was under a lot of pressure at work and when a child misbehaved she responded unfairly. After she had calmed down she apologised to the child and admitted she had been wrong. He was so surprised and grateful that he never gave her any more trouble. This is the typical sort of result that comes from adopting a restorative approach.
Barbara Tudor described the history of RJ within Coventry going back to 1985. The probation service provided RJ within the courts, training people in local housing, the police, victim support and the hospital. There was an extensive network of RJ facilitators for 15 years and the Chair of the group was the presiding judge of the local Crown Court. But following financial cutbacks and the reorganisation of the probation service, RJ has dwindled in importance. She is currently trying to promote its revival. She also briefly discussed the RJ work of Clifford Grimason with HM Prison Hewell which takes prisoners from Coventry.
There was discussion about how to fund RJ within the city. Stuart Randall pointed out that David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, is currently deciding which organisation will receive the contract to deliver RJ throughout the West Midlands. This could result in the closure of the existing Coventry Restorative Justice Team. In addition, he will only provide funding for delivering RJ to victims of crime whereas the Team delivers RJ to anyone who asks for it and has a member of staff seconded from Whitefriars housing to help resolve neighbourhood disputes using restorative practice.
Philip Brown pointed out that RJ need not cost a great deal. In Sheffield, for example, the Community Justice Panel delivers RJ with a single paid member of staff and volunteers to deliver RJ.
Thomas Murtagh described the mapping exercise that he and Philip Brown had been conducting talking to a wide range of people who are involved with RJ. “It is truly inspiring talking to these people and finding that we already have the expertise in the city. We have people on the ground delivering RJ. It just needs pushing a little bit further, integrating it, making it more visible. We need to take ownership of it and make it part of Coventry’s culture. We want Coventry to become a Restorative Justice City.
It was pointed out that Coventry is soon going to be the City of Culture and RJ fits in well with that. Philip Brown said that we need to get Martin Reeves, Chief Executive Coventry City Council, to support the work of the RJ Forum. It was also suggested that we need to speak to the Coventry Community Safety Partnership Board.