Repairing the Harm and rebuilding relationships in the community.
In this week’s Community Safety Blog I want to touch very briefly upon 2 interrelated methods or approaches which could be relevant to our own local community safety strategy. Firstly is Restorative Justice, this has many and varied definitions depending upon the context and the agency or service which is utilising the approach. The Scottish restorative justice consultancy process facilitated by the Scottish Government describes this model as: “being a voluntary process that engages those responsible for and harmed by a criminal offence in constructive dialogue about the harm caused and what can be done to set things right.” This then is a model that can be deployed in a variety of contexts, including: Youth Justice, problematic environmental circumstances, within schools and other educational settings and in addressing anti-social behaviour. My attention was drawn to a recent act of local vandalism that involved some garden furniture being broken. After the culprits voluntarily owned up, they were given an opportunity to repair the damage and enter dialogue with the victims of the breakage. The young people responsible are now carrying out some voluntary work with the organisation who were affected by the initial vandalism. A positive outcome then for everyone involved, a common understanding reached, and a resolution was found that has avoided the involvement of the police and the criminal justice system and indeed any punitive measures and is a win, win for everyone. The key feature to this process has been empathy, all parties are able to consider how it might have felt for the others effected by their actions and also in this case the clients of the organisation where the vandalism happened. A better level of understanding has been facilitated and an appreciation for the value of others and sometimes the challenges they face has been reached. This is an approach which could be more widely deployed locally, we potentially could adapt and adopt a restorative method when agreeing our action plans to addressing the local community safety priorities. Clearly a working agreement would be required by all the agencies , stakeholders and the local community, before this approach could be viable. SACRO have described using Restorative Acceptable Behaviour Contracts in appropriate circumstances with the aim “to address offending behaviour in a way which empowers the people harmed, those responsible and wider community members to resolve the conflict in a meaningful way” Another significant feature is that the person responsible is given an opportunity to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The person affected for example by the anti-social behaviour or Offence can also have some say as to how the case is resolved and where relevant and appropriate the wider community can be involved with the dialogue.
The essence therefore of Restorative Justice is to make a positive contribution to community safety through using constructive methods of addressing anti-social behaviour and Offending behaviour. The underlying principles are that crime causes harm and that justice should focus on repairing that harm and the people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution. Restorative methods are imbedded to the notion that the community is responsible for the wellbeing of all its members both victim and offender.
And so to the second strand I want to highlight and which can be described as Environmental Restorative Justice and this has been described as: “being a philosophy much more than a set of techniques for doing justice for the environment in a more relational, more emotionally intelligent fashion. It is about healing earth systems and healing the relationship of humans with nature and with each other.”(earthrestorativejustice.org) OK that sounds a bit like tree huggers jargon but in terms of our local community safety strategy it can be relevant to how we go about tackling our litter and fly-tipping problems. If we view the locations that are litter or messy hot spots as areas of environmental damage, then we can implement restorative projects like turning them into wildflower meadows or edible borders or convert them to community vegetable plots. The solution to clearing these locations can become more than a group litter pick or getting the council to remove industrial sized refuse that has been dumped in the community. Potentially it can develop into an environmental project, encouraging biodiversity, reclaiming lost land, and contributing to greater community cohesion and the sense of feeling safe. I have also been looking into Parklets and Pop up Parks which can be deployed to different locations throughout the community and provide a safe and enjoyable place for local people to meet and socialise. Another pertinent example is from Keep Scotland Beautiful who run an annual competition called “it’s your neighbourhood” where groups develop a project which must address the three pillars of: Community Participation, Environmental responsibility and gardening achievement, the winners get £13,000 for their project. Getting involved in Projects like these can be an empowering process and enables us as a community to contribute to the climate emergency and make our neighbourhoods a safer and better place to live and work.
John R Hosie
Community Safety Engager
3rd August 2020