This is what I do: Peter Keeley, crime mediator [Eire Region]
A first we dealt with low-level, low-tariff offenders who were new to the system. Since 2010, we have dealt with more serious offences, such as assaults, burglary and trespass and with offenders who have a criminal background.
Restorative justice is another way of dealing with the human fallout from crime. We look at who has been hurt by the crime and how that harm might be repaired.
The Restorative Justice Service, of which I am executive director, was set up in 1999 as a pilot scheme. A first we dealt with low-level, low-tariff offenders who were new to the system. Since 2010, we have dealt with more serious offences, such as assaults, burglary and trespass and with offenders who have a criminal background. We have two programmes: offender reparation, and victim-offender mediation. In both cases, the offender starts off by working with us to address their behaviour and understand the consequences of their crimes. If they make progress, we then talk about repairing the harm.
One option could be to contact the victim. We offer victims an opportunity to come into a safe environment, where they can talk to us and we ask how they would like the harm addressed, whether they have any questions they want asked of the offender, or if they would like a commitment from the offender.
This dialogue might end up in a meeting. The victim is not obliged to meet the offender, and vice versa. It works best if it is voluntary. The majority of meetings have positive outcomes, mainly because of the preparation. On occasion, they are transformative. The victim may feel fear and anger, while the offender may be apprehensive. A respectful, safe tone is set where everyone gets an opportunity to speak.
In one instance, a victim was assaulted in a so-called "happy-slapping" incident. It greatly affected him. He was out of work for some time afterwards, lost his self-confidence and was angry and frustrated. He wanted to give the offender the story from the victim's perspective, and that is what he did.
In a situation like this, offenders are given the opportunity to put their hand up and take responsibility, while the victims are offered some kind of closure. Out of the pressure cooker of court, the offenders can have a conversation and put an apology to their victims.
Once offenders complete the programme with us, we put together a file that is brought back to court. The judge reviews it and makes a decision regarding sentencing. We can't give any guarantee as to what the judge will or won't do on completion of the programme but, in general, the principle of mitigation is fully accepted. In recent years, we followed 150 offenders who had completed our programme. In the two years after completion, the non-reoffending rate was more than 70%. The results were extremely encouraging.