Photo by Mamun. Left to right standing: Philip Brown, Coventry Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace & Reconciliation; Denis Tanfa, RJI; Clifford Grimason, HM Prison Hewell; Thomas Murtagh, Coventry University; Cheryl Gregory, Coventry RJ Team; Leon Dundas, RJI.
Seated: Barbara Tudor, Probation Service; Jane, RJI Women of Peace Project; Claire Ewell, Coventry RJ Team.
On 3 July 2018, members of the Coventry Restorative Justice Forum travelled to Beaumont Leys in Leicester to meet members of Restorative Justice Initiative (Midlands) (RJI) to discover what they were doing and what lessons we can learn from their experience. RJI has been delivering RJ for 10 years, initially funded by the Big Lottery, then with some money from the Ministry of Justice and the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and lately by raising funds from various sources. They are the only community-based organisation delivering RJ in Leicester.
The visit generated a number of significant new insights.
Denis emphasised that RJ must start from the grass roots of the community. He has made a commitment to make Restorative Justice a household name. If people are not aware that the service exists they will never ask to receive it. We need to give presentations at conferences and schools, to leave fliers in doctors surgeries and elsewhere to make it easy for people to find us.
To achieve this goal he said you need the support of those with power and money. But those who are currently receiving money from the PCC will not use it to help RJI achieve this goal.
There was some discussion of how RJ is currently being delivered in Leicester. Leicestershire PCC is funding Restorative Solutions and they in turn employ Catch22 to deliver the Victim First service whose website says “Our Case Workers liaise with local restorative justice services, which could include facilitating dialogue with an offender.” It is not clear who actually delivers RJ.
The RJI Women of Peace Project trains and supports a dozen local women to deliver RJ within their local community. This is an excellent model of how volunteers can be engaged in RJ. Training lasts 3 days and includes role-play. It is a way of empowering women.
RJI has trained students at Leicester and De Montfort Universities in RJ to be delivered to other students. Some of them have gone on to adopt RJ as their chosen career. Denis has visited Gartree Prison to suggest developing a strategy to use RJ to reintegrate offenders back into the community.
They find it difficult to persuade schools to adopt RJ. Denis emphasised you need to engage Head Teachers, the Parent-Teacher Associations and Board of Governors. A few schools have adopted RJ and are doing well.
The discussion was broadened out into how to persuade national policy-makers to accept that RJ is effective. They frequently claim that there is no evidence that RJ works because there is no randomised control trial (RCT). They say the only claim that it works comes from passionate facilitators. Part of the problem is that RJ is multifaceted and often often involves communities who may in turn have an effect on the reintegration of the offender, so the policy-makers say “how do you know it was RJ that had the effect rather than one of the other factors?” And RJ practitioners reply they don’t care which factor had the effect as long as it was beneficial for victim or the offender or the community or some or all of them.
Philip proposed that we try to engage a university to run an RCT, but Clifford Grimason cautioned that RJ a complex thing, and very hard to reduce to a single “magic bullet” that the policy-makers can support. Once a university is involved we need to go to the nationals statistical office, offender management, and ask them “what is it that we could show you that would convince you that RJ works?”
Thomas Murtagh said that the RJ is probably unquantifiable. Leon Dundas said that we definitely know prisons don’t work but they are still funded. Clifford said we should challenge those who say “punishment works” by asking them to prove the benefit of removing parents from their home, locking them up at great expense and traumatising their children who then become the next generation of offenders.
Basically we are trying to change the mindset of people so they accept that punishment is often not the best way of dealing with offenders. Leon asked how can the Coventry RJ Forum communicate their passion and energy with people on the streets of Coventry and make them equally committed and passionate about RJ and feel supported to go on this journey that grabs you in ways that you can’t measure and keeps them safe? Clifford said we have to think about how to slowly persuade them. Mamun said that people want it. When you tell people about it they say they did not know that RJ existed but they want it.
Clifford says that policy-makers thought that, because PCCs are locally accountable they would feel the pressure of local people to deliver more RJ, but that has not happened.
Philip said he thinks it is the job of the Forum to build and harness that community support. Barbara has already explained how RJ in Coventry was very effective in the 1990s but has since diminished, but if RJ is demanded by ordinary people it will be more sustainable.
Leon said you need to engage key community, interfaith forum and faith leaders in dialog, make them aware of RJ and through them engage their communities. Through them you need to find people who are passionate about RJ, some of whom might well be ex-convicts, and use their energy to convince decision-makers to support RJ and spend their money on delivery rather than on intermediate agencies that absorb the money the PCC gives out but deliver very little.