Scheme to let victims request meetings with offenders trialled
Victims of crime in the Thames Valley have become the first in England to be able to ask for face to face meetings with their offenders.
Until now, restorative justice has started with offenders being selected and then their victims being contacted for a possible meeting.
A new EU-funded trial set up in March is now seeing victims offered the chance to initiate a meeting.
The first cases are now under way and the trial will run until December 2014.
If it is successful, the scheme could be rolled out across the country.'Personally affected'
Geoff Emerson, restorative justice manager for Thames Valley Probation, said the service was working with the Victim Support charity on the project.
"The government wants to be able to offer RJ (restorative justice) to victims at different points in the criminal justice system, but this is a way of enabling volunteers to come forward saying that it's something they want to do," he said.
"Up to now we've not been able to do that, we've not had the funds to do that.
"This is a way of getting to see what the take-up rate will be."
He said about 33% of victims offered the service so far had chosen to have a face to face meeting, while about 50% had chosen indirect contact, for example through a letter.
"The evidence, which shows where victims get really good benefits, come from offences of burglary or violence and public order offences, but more importantly it's where a person has been more personally affected," Mr Emerson added.
"It's enabling the person affected to have their say and it puts them into a position of some degree of power, it empowers them to change things and move on."
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said officials were already working with probation trusts to improve the delivery of restorative justice locally and had awarded a £170,000 grant to Thames Valley Partnership to develop its approach.
He added: "Many victims of crime get to see sentences handed down in the courts, but it's not always enough to help them move on with their lives.
"Restorative justice gives victims the opportunity to look offenders in the eye and explain to them the real impact the crime has had on their life. The process also provides a chance for offenders to face the consequences of their actions."