Restorative justice

Almost every week, I see or hear something new that amazes me about the transformational power of mediation. Recently, I read a case study about community mediation that made a real impact on me. This week, I thought I would share it with you. Try and stick with it. It’s not long, just one side of A4.

Here we go. Roberta was driving home from work on the motorway when her windscreen suddenly shattered. She slammed on the brakes and narrowly averted a collision with the cars around her. A police investigation revealed that two young kids aged 12 and 14 had been throwing rocks at passing cars from a motorway bridge. They were arrested, but because it was their first offence, they were referred to a juvenile victim-offender mediation programme. This was part of a pilot project to determine whether mediation could produce better results than the criminal courts.

It took some effort to convince Roberta to mediate, as she was afraid at first to meet her attackers. Ultimately, she agreed to mediate with the two youngsters, Phil and Tim, together with their aunt who was raising them, because their mother was working out of town and their father had disappeared. Phil and Tim were also reluctant to meet with Roberta, but their only alternative was to face prosecution in Juvenile Court and a possible jail sentence.

The discussion

Roberta was to begin. She pointed a finger directly at them and said in a tense, angry, accusatory voice, “You little sons of bitches, you almost killed me! I am going to be a grandmother next month and you almost killed me, you little sons of bitches,” and she began to sob. Phil and Tim, who were frightened just to attend the mediation, were now completely terrified and also began to cry.

On seeing Phil and Tim burst into tears, Roberta realised that the “hardened criminals” she had imagined, were just children. She softened her tone and told them more openly and vulnerably about her fear and sadness, and asked them, “How could you have done this to me?”. Sobbing, Phil told Roberta he was sorry and he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Tim said “It’s all my fault. I was the one who threw the rock. I’m sorry” and they both began to cry again.

On hearing their willingness to accept responsibility for what they had done, Roberta softened even more. She began to speak to them directly in a sympathetic tone about what they had done, insisting that they take responsibility for the damage they had caused.

The mediator asked Roberta what she thought Phil and Tim might do to prove to her that they were willing to accept responsibility for what they had done. She said what she really wanted before the mediation began, was for them to pay for a new windscreen. However, she now understood their circumstances and saw that they were not old enough to find paying jobs.

She thought for a while and offered instead that they might come to her house once a week for 3 months and wash her car. This was agreed. At first, Roberta was anxious about inviting Phil and Tim to her house, but when they came, they behaved respectfully and worked hard to clean her car, she began to relax. It became clear to her while they were washing her car, they were also washing away their sins and cleansing their guilt. She began to experience forgiveness.

The second time they came, she offered them some juice and biscuits. The third time, she invited them into her house and they talked about school and their lives. At the end of the 3 months, they had become friends and Roberta decided to pay them an allowance to take out her rubbish and perform small tasks around the house.

Several years later, when Phil was about to graduate from school, Roberta asked him what he was going to do and he said that he didn’t know. She encouraged him to go to college, but he said he couldn’t afford it. Guess who agreed to pay his tuition?

This case study can be found in ‘The Crossroads of Conflict’ written by Ken Cloke. This type of mediation is also commonly referred to as Restorative Justice.

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