24 November 2005 Edition
CRJ schemes not alternative to policing or professional agencies
The continued failure to transfer policing and justice powers to a local administration in the Six Counties, and the lack of a new beginning to policing in there has heightened the focus on community concerns around justice issues.
Similarly the lack of effective, and properly accountable policing both in urban, working-class areas and isolated rural communities throughout the 26 Counties has sparked much commentary on the issue of crime and justice.
In the following article
Noel McCartney of Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) outlines his view of this voluntary, community-based initiative as accountable, extremely effective and complementary to any police service
Community Restorative Justice (Ireland) is an impartial mediation service independent of any political party or influence, which uses restorative principles and practices to resolve primarily low-level, anti-community behaviour and community disputes. We work in a community where the police are still viewed with a degree of suspicion but we never have nor ever will be an alternative to any police service nor any statutory or voluntary agency that is operating in our communities. The exact opposite is the case. We see ourselves as complementary to any police service. The Oversight Commissioner of the Criminal Justice Review in the Six Counties has stated as much himself.
CRJ has projects in Derry, Belfast, Downpatrick and Armagh. Last year CRJ's 150 volunteers, with the minimum of funding and in most areas with no funding at all, dealt with over 1,400 cases involving more than 6,500 people. Compare this to the British Government's Youth Justice Agency, with all its funding, which dealt with 128 cases.
All CRJ volunteers are asked to complete the Open College Network (Level 3) accredited training on Restorative Justice and undergo a PEC's check for vetting for Child Protection. We work with the Housing Executive in the Six Counties, the Probation Board, local councils and many community organisations. We are a member group of Community Safety Forums in the North. We have worked with Sinn Féin and the SDLP developing strategies to resolve anti-community activity. We have strong support from the clergy in the areas where we have projects. In one area, a local priest was sceptical about our work, until he visited our meetings. The following is an extract of an interview with him from an evaluation done by the Institute for Conflict Research in 2001. He said that the CRJ "is not from some political or politically-motivated initiative but has come about as a result of a need that was identified within the community... My experience of seeing them operate from here on the ground has been, and certainly from the times where I have tried to involve them in situations I have felt, that they have tried to deal with them [young people] in an honest manner. And there's been a genuine concern about the young people, say, who have been the offenders, to get help for them."
Victims should have the right to choose a non-violent process to deal with their complaints. Can anyone disagree with this? The process of restorative justice is designed to allow any community to deal, in a non-violent way, with a person who has wronged another. Those asked to meet to discuss the issue can include the victim, perpetrator, and anyone else caught up in it, such as family members and neighbours. This is always done on a voluntary basis and those involved in the dispute can leave the process at any stage.
CRJ does not involve itself in cases of domestic violence, sexual violence or child abuse as we are clearly unqualified to deal with such issues. If clients approach us with theses types of issues then they are immediately referred to the appropriate agencies. In Derry, CRJ refer women victims of domestic violence to Foyle Women's Aid who last year took on the role of training all our volunteers on Domestic Violence Awareness.
Professor Harry Mika, world-renowned Restorative Justice expert, said that that Restorative Justice projects operating in the North were among the most advanced in the world. Restorative Justice projects here have dealt with the difficult and serious issues of violence in a very progressive manner. Since starting in the late 1990s they have grown in stature to become valued parts of their communities.
Community Restorative Justice is subject to external scrutiny and evaluation and CRJ has agreed that our policies and practices should be subject to the Criminal Justice Inspectorate. CRJ (Ireland) is in the process of setting up a single independent complaints mechanism for the whole organisation, along the lines of the Derry model, for all who wish to avail of it. Our successful work in resolving low-level anti-community disputes is internationally recognised and acknowledged in the Criminal Justice Review and by the Oversight Commissioner who actually stepped outside his remit to say "If these organisations did not exist it might be difficult as matters stand to provide a similar service. Indeed the void might have undesirable consequences."
CRJ is proud of the fact that three of its members were the first in the North to attain all ten units at Level 3 (NVQ) in Community Safety and another member was the first to attain it in 'Work with Victims, Survivors and Witnesses'.
CRJ is the leading organisation in community safety in the North especially when you consider the number of our volunteers who have OCN Mediation and OCN Restorative qualifications. Dr Mary Magee, who works for the Northern Ireland Community Justice NVQ Assessment explained: "NVQ Awards in Community Justice certify the assessment of staff working to occupational standards.
"An NVQ Award affirms the skills applied by the candidate and the knowledge, which underpins their practice in real work situations. National Vocational Qualifications are different from many other qualifications in that they reflect the competence of the worker 'to do the job' in line with occupational standards defined by employers. NVQ Awards reflect good practice and competence by workers."