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restorative practice

Restorative practice gives offenders the 'chance to make amends'

A conference later this week aims to show how ‘restorative practice’ can help reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

A POTENTIALLY LIFE-SAVING conference is to take place in Dublin this week.

It’s not about the latest medical breakthrough or even claims to work in every situation, but it can help make society a better, and safer, place.

The subject is ‘Restorative Practice’ and one of the speakers at Wednesday’s conference, Tim Chapman, told what it was, and the potential that it holds.

As someone who lectures on restorative practice at the University of Ulster, the former probation officer has seen it work first hand.

So what is restorative practice?

“It’s a means of getting those people who have been affected by a harmful incident, whether it’s a violent crime or a problem with neighbours or a discipline problem in school, and getting them to address the harm done and to restore the situation,” Chapman said.

“Research has shown that it is more effective in relation to violent crime than more trivial crimes, which is interesting,” he added, describing why:

If I assaulted you and was then given the option of meeting you, you could then tell me how it had impacted you, and I would have a chance to make amends for it.
Meeting an actual person has more of an impact than if I were to shoplift, for example. Offenders tend not to see a victim in crimes like this.

Restorative practice has now been in place in Northern Ireland for a decade. “There’s been around 13,000 of these conferences over the last 10 years,” the ex-parole officer said. “About one in three in Northern Ireland go on to reoffend, so it’s not perfect.”

Young people

Legislation in Northern Ireland states that young people that have admitted to an offence must be offered a ‘youth conference’.

It is at this ‘youth conference’ that the young offender – along with their family, if they wish – meet with their victim and their family. In the middle of this is a trained facilitator to help keep things on track.

While this an automatic option for young offenders, older offenders can also request it.

Chapman believes that this week’s conference, organised by the Childhood Development Initiative, has the potential to have a major impact in the Republic of Ireland.

I believe that we need to train teachers and community workers in these skills so that they can informally deal with bad behaviour so that it doesn’t escalate.
The aim is to keep people out of the legal system as much as possible, and therefore reduce the ‘labelling effect’ which can see things spiral out of control.

Read: Nine murders committed by people released on bail >

Column: Criminal justice policy should be shaped by our heads, not our hearts >

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