Restorative Justice is achieved when the person who has been harmed by a crime is supported by a third party to communicate with the person who caused the harm, to the benefit of both parties, their families and their communities. It is achieved through an impartial communication service, which ensures that the communication is safe, supported, and voluntary.
RJ working set up as a social enterprise in Cornwall to provide such a service, and also to tackle the issue of why, in England and Wales, Restorative Justice (RJ) is unknown to the vast majority of people. This affects take-up of the offer of RJ: if it seems like a strange experiment it won’t be so likely to be chosen by victims of crime struggling with overwhelming anger or acute vulnerability. The mainstream population has not yet recognised the potential of this way of working to reduce the frustration, fear, anxiety and sense of powerlessness that are generated when one person harms another. It is not yet normal to request RJ, or to be offered a meeting, as it is in many other countries. Nearby in Northern Ireland over 14,000 Restorative Justice ‘Conferences’ have made a huge contribution to rebuilding community over the last twelve years.
The mainstream population has not yet recognised the potential of this way of working to reduce the frustration, fear, anxiety and sense of powerlessness that are generated when one person harms another
We realised early on that one very successful way of communicating the benefits of Restorative Justice is through film. This is an economic and replicable medium for audiences of various sizes and identities. We know that part of the power of RJ is that it is intensely personal and that no two ‘cases’ are the same. The Restorative Justice Council is the national umbrella body for RJ practice and development, which already publishes powerful stories of individuals and communities and has translated some of these to film. To complement this work, RJ Working CIC applied to the RSA for a Catalyst grant to make a short documentary through Cornwall Rural Community Council and to run workshops to show the film. We had no idea what a rollercoaster was ahead.
Through the process Nick Parker, FRSA pointed us to the RSA theme ‘the power to create’, which is the perfect crucible for RJ to flourish. RJ is a practical form of creating a new narrative by the central characters themselves; it empowers, it redefines, it regenerates. With this in mind we embarked on a journey in creating a number of films to take the concept to the public. The films developed through the Catalyst funding were -
Cube Theatre's five minute trailer for ‘After the Accident’, which you can view here. Its strong stuff, and does not leave doubt about Restorative Justice being a soft option. Cube Theatre will be touring ‘After the Accident’ in 2015, initially in the South West with February dates at Exeter’s Bikeshed theatre.
By the time it came to International Restorative Justice Week at the end of November we had the potential for a small Restorative Justice film festival. We were given a big screen venue at The Poly in Falmouth through Mike Jenks, FRSA and its President. The Poly is an institution with a pedigree and history entirely compatible with the RSA, dating from 1833 and committed to interactive developments through arts, sciences and social progress. Over seventy people came to see and discuss the three films achieved through the RSA Catalyst award. Many of them engaged via comments and suggestions and RJ Working will be responding to these over the coming weeks and months.
Over the past year we have worked closely with RSA Fellows to promote Restorative Justice, leading seminars at the RSA Fellow-led social enterprise conference in Truro, and talking at the recent Falmouth Connect event. We hope to continue and develop these relationships, which have helped propel RJ Working CIC.
The final development to this point is support from the Ministry of Justice for us to take this work further into England and Wales. The focus will be on reaching stakeholders whose increased understanding of the benefits of Restorative Justice may create access to this opportunity for victims of crime. This will inevitably require varieties of collaboration which are characteristic of the RSA, and so we hope for RSA involvement at many levels, and we have applied for an additional funding award from Catalyst, to keep moving forward.
Deborah Mitchell FRSA
For RJ Working Community Interest Company