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COMMENDEE 2012-13: Probation Officer: for contributions to victim support and reducing reoffending through restorative justice.
[Kate Brooksbank gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]
I have developed a number of Restorative Justice approaches for victims in Bradford who have been involved in a variety of different offences or conflict. Restorative Justice is a victim centred approach which allows victims to meet with their offenders. Victims who have engaged have had a meaningful outcome and are able to move on from the incident.
My interest in Restorative Justice came from studying my second year of my BSc Criminology in Australia in 2000. Here I learnt about Restorative Justice, and was fortunate to spend 4 weeks at the Centre for Restorative Justice in Canberra. Here I observed a conference, met with leaders within this field and also undertook research for my dissertation in Restorative Justice.
In 2008, in my role as a Probation Officer, I was given the opportunity to develop a Restorative Justice project for Bradford Probation Trust. This meant that for victims of serious offences such as Burglary, Robbery, Assault and Theft, they could now be offered the opportunity to be involved in a process that places them at the centre and allows them the opportunity to meet with their offender, have their questions answered, which could possibly help them move on from the crime. Initially this was part of the Intensive Alternative to Custody Order, but in 2009 it was made available for all offenders subject to Probation Supervision. In 2011 the project was recognised by the Restorative Justice Council for the high number of victims participating in this project, as well as recognition for the high satisfaction levels for those going through this process.
The success of this project led to Bradford Safer Community Partnership seeking me to set up the Neighbourhood Resolution Panels (NRP), a new local approach to Restorative Justice for low level crime and anti-social behaviour. This project involves me managing volunteers who facilitate the meetings between the perpetrator and victim.
Restorative Justice is the only process which places victims at the centre and gives them a voice. It gives them the opportunity to meet face to face with their offender. Often after an offence has occurred, victims are left with unanswered questions, which unless answered can prevent them from moving on and dealing with the aftermath of the offence. When a case goes to Court, victims often do not get these questions answered such as why me, why my house, were you watching me, where did you go? This process allows victims the opportunity to get these questions answered.
We recognised in Bradford that Restorative Justice was now available for those cases that went through the Court. What we then believed however was that we wanted to work with people before things got so serious that people ended up in Court, and more victims were created. We wanted an approach for people involved in low level behaviour, which if left unresolved could result in a more serious offence being committed.
In developing both these projects I have had to demonstrate the power and impact of Restorative Justice (RJ), so that I could encourage victims and offenders to participate. I did this by giving them a good understanding of Restorative Justice and the benefits to them of being involved in the process. Encouraging victims to participate has been and will continue to be a challenge. I always approach victims with empathy, sensitivity and by being supportive I am able to give them the confidence to participate. By promoting self-analysis and positive change I have motivated offenders to engage and take responsibility for their behaviour whilst trying to repair the harm they have caused. This is evidenced by feedback from participants involved with Restorative Justice.
Victim participant: “The meeting was very successful, following the first meeting we arranged another for the offender to apologise to my son. In doing so it made my son a lot more comfortable at home and out and about.”
Victim participant: “I was very nervous about meeting the offender, but I feel it went well and I feel like a weight has been lifted. The knot in my stomach has gone and all the questions I had at the time of the burglary have been answered. I feel like I can pick myself up from this.”
When implementing this type approach, I knew it was imperative that key stakeholders could see the effectiveness of Restorative Justice. I gave presentations to Magistrates, Judges and Police Officers of all ranks. I also represented West Yorkshire Probation Trust at local and national forums. I worked hard with local and regional media to again demonstrate the impact of this concept to the wider audience. My Interpersonal, negotiation and communication skills have been paramount when trying to engage with partners and stakeholders. In instances of conflicting cultures, it’s important that I developed mutually beneficial solutions.
When starting both these projects, I knew that lack of knowledge and understanding could impact upon referrals that we received and ultimately the success of the projects. From early on I made sure that I ran workshops to explain and gain support for the projects. I knew that we had received a great deal of support from Senior Police Officers, but ultimately it was the Police Officers out on the street that needed to know more and make the referrals in. When I delivered briefings to Probation Staff, this was straightforward given the number and availability. When working with the Police, the numbers were great and different shift patterns meant that delivering training was going to be difficult. In trying to be dynamic, I recruited 12 Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) Officers who could act as Restorative Justice Champions. This meant that each NPT area had someone who had undertaken 2 days training and had a more thorough and in-depth understanding and so could support colleagues out on the street.
As well as coordinating these projects and facilitating conferences, I am also heavily involved in Restorative Justice Facilitator training. This involves traveling to different organisations to help them set up their own projects and train staff in facilitation. This has involved Prison, Police, Probation, Drug Rehabilitation Centre, Councils and Schools. This has given me the ability to see the different ways in which a restorative approach can be applied. For example with children in primary schools or clients within a drug rehabilitation unit.
[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Kate Brooksbank, recognised as an ‘exceptional Probation officer’ has been awarded a Commendation for her ‘outstanding skills’ in developing restorative justice (RJ) in Bradford.
‘I was inspired by a year’s study in Australia where I spent four weeks on placement at the Centre for Restorative Justice at the Australian National University,’ she says. ‘This fired my passion and I returned to the UK with the knowledge and desire to get a job which involved RJ. My opportunity came when I lobbied my managers and the Head of Bradford Probation to develop West Yorkshire’s first RJ scheme as part of a ‘Bradford intensive alternative to custody’ pilot.
Given the role of setting up the project, she began by carrying out a comprehensive assessment of mediation services in the area, as well as talking to Trusts and voluntary organisations in other areas who were delivering RJ.