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Victims and Restorative Justice: Fulfilling Expectations?. David O’Mahony, Department of Law, Durham University

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Victims and Restorative Justice: Fulfilling Expectations?

David O’Mahony, Department of Law,

Durham University

Campbell, C., Devlin, R., O’Mahony, D., Doak, J., Jackson, J., Corrigan, T., McEvoy, K. (2006) Evaluation of the Northern Ireland Youth Conference Service. Northern Ireland Office: Research and Statistical Series Report No.12

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  • Justice (NI) Act 2002

  • Youth Conference Service December 2003

  • Evaluation- Fieldwork: Dec 2003 to July 2005

  • Main methods: observations and participant interviews

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The Research

  • In total:

    • 185 conferences observed

    • 125 interviews with victims (86%)

    • 11 interviews with non-participating victims

    • 171 interviews with young people (92%)

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Youth conferencing

  • Two types of referral:

    • Prosecution – Diversionary

    • Court - Court Ordered

  • Young person (10-17) must admit or be found guilty

  • Young person must consent

  • Mandatory referral process (must, may and may not)

  • Mainstreamed Restorative Approach

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Meeting with Young Person

Explain purpose of conference

Re-establish consent and assess suitability

Prepare young person for conference

Explain purpose of conference

Meeting with Victim

Assess victims level of participation

Prepare victim for conference

Understand victim’s position

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Police Officer

The Conference

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Victim Participation

  • ‘Participation’ as attendance at a conference

  • Victim present in 69% of the 185 conferences observed.

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Victim ‘Type’

  • Victim representatives – 60%

  • ‘Personal’ victims – 40%

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Victim ‘Type’ contd.

  • The ‘type’ of victim and impact:

    • The apology

      “Never arose. If any apology, it would have been to the police. They were more the injured party” (Victim representative).

    • ‘Victimless’ crimes

      It is explained that the offence is against the ‘general public’. Young person, “What is the general public? I don’t understand what that means”.

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A Restorative Dynamic

  • Young person, “I wish the victim had have been down – to try and express my regret to him”

  • Co-ordinator, “We would usually talk to the victim now but I have had a telephone call…he didn’t want to get involved in the conference…”

    Young person, “It makes me feel bad”.

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Offence ‘Type’

  • 47% of ‘personal’ victims attended as a victim of assault

  • The majority of victim representatives attended for the offence of theft or criminal damage

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  • To hear what the young person had to say (88%):

    “I wanted to hear what the young person had to say”

  • To explain the impact of the offence (87%):

    “I wanted the young person to see how much it hurt me and not how much they thought it hurt me”

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Motivations contd.

  • To help the young person (79%):

    “I wanted to help the young person get straightened out”

    “I didn’t come for myself but for the young person…the offence didn’t really affect me in a big way”

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Motivations contd.

  • Non-participation as choice:

    - a desire to move on

    - not wishing to meet face to face

    - offence not serious enough,

    “I didn’t think it was worth it, not a big enough offence”

  • Continued engagement with the restorative process?

    “I would have liked to have seen what the result was”

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Conference Experience

  • Preparation and engagement

    • Victims felt they were generally well prepared

    • Only 20% of victims were visibly nervous vs. 71% of offenders

    • 83% of victims were ‘very engaged’ in process

    • 92% of victims felt they had said everything they wanted to

    • All victims felt they were given the opportunity to express themselves

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Apology and Remorse

  • 91% of victims received at least an apology

    • Only one personal victim did not receive an apology

      85% of victims were happy with the apology made

      91% of conferences with victim present, the offender displayed remorse

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Youth Conference Plan

  • Must contain one or more of the following and shall not last more than one year

    • Apology

    • Reparation

    • Payment

    • Supervision

    • Un-paid work (16 and over)

    • Activities

    • Restrictions

    • Treatment

    • Custody (Court decides term)

  • Little guidance on proportionality/limiting principles

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Devising the Plan

  • 96% of victims were engaged in devising the conference plan

  • 95% of victims were satisfied with the process of determining the plan

  • 95% of plans were agreed

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Elements of Plans

  • Reparation 76%

  • Help to offender 83%

  • Rehabilitation 56%

  • Punishment 27%

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Best features of Plans

  • Victims felt the best features were:

    • Helping the offender in some way

    • Preventing re-offending

    • Holding the offender to account

      Victim ‘The best part was being given the opportunity to talk to the wee lad and hope he won’t do it again. Also, I think the best part was talking to his mum and understanding her position’

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Court or Conference?

  • Only 11% of Victims would have preferred if the case had been dealt with in court

    Personal Victim: Rather court? “No, because [the young person] wouldn’t have got help with his addiction, wouldn’t have got the opportunity he has now. He has six months of help”. Court more lenient? “Not sure. Basically a sentence is over and done with. Now he has time to reflect on what he has done, to make amends as such. He has to engage in the help people are offering.

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Negative feelings following conference

  • 7% of victims felt ‘worse’ following conference

    Victim: ‘I’m more negative about the process than I was before. …the offenders attitude and the fact that it was tolerated, …no one is reaching to the real offender. People are just reacting to his anger, not addressing it.’

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Victims’ Satisfaction

  • 92% felt process was fair

  • 98% felt their views were taken seriously

  • 98% felt ‘safe’ in the conference

  • 88% would recommend conference to someone else in a similar situation

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Overarching Themes

  • Most victims are happy with conferencing

  • Most victims positively fed into the restorative aspects of conferencing

  • Most victims want to help the offender and few want retribution or vengeance

  • Effective victim participation is resource intensive - need to avoid ‘net-widening’ and concentrate on providing high quality service to appropriate cases

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Further Reading

Campbell, C., Devlin, R., O’Mahony, D., Doak, J., Jackson, J., Corrigan, T., McEvoy, K. (2006) Evaluation of the Northern Ireland Youth Conference Service. Northern Ireland Office: Research and Statistical Series Report No.12

  • See also website for Youth Conferencing Service:

  • Doak J & O’Mahony D (2006) ‘The Vengeful Victim’.International Review of Victimology Vol. 13 pp 157-177