Victims of low-level crime are getting a say in the punishment dished out to offenders in a new ‘community justice’ scheme being piloted in Grantham.
Members of the public are making up community justice panels which sit with both the victim and offender to come to a conclusion agreed by all. This might be a letter of apology or litter-picking.
The cases which go before the panel are those which would typically be dealt with by way of a police caution or fixed penalty notice, such as criminal damage or anti-social behaviour.
Adele Longrigg, 46, from Grantham, is a panel member who feels passionately about the scheme. She said: “It’s about making communities safer and happier places, and getting members of the community to understand each other, work together and take ownership of where they live.
“Also, for younger people who don’t already have a criminal record, this is a way of possibly stopping that from happening; to get them to be responsible and understand the consequences and impact of their actions.”
Sandra Mullin, 53, from Grantham, is a fellow panel member who is equally as impassioned about the concept. She said: “Low-level anti-social behaviour should be put through the panels because they can put back into the community and that’s what’s so important.
“Sitting around in a circle and talking to the victim and offender makes the offender realise what impact it has on the victim or victims.”
If the four-month trial in Grantham goes well, due to end in September, the green light will go out to other parts of Lincolnshire.
According to Lincolnshire Police, parts of the country where panels are already established have seen positive results. In Somerset, re-offending rates among those who have been through panels are around three per cent, as opposed to 66 per cent among those who have not.
Sergeant Richard Liddle is acting as panel co-ordinator during the trial period. He said: “A recent example of how the panel can really work involved a woman, who has issues with alcohol dependency, stealing a bottle of vodka from a local shop. When the security guard stopped her she became extremely aggressive and abusive towards the guard – which really upset her.
“All parties agreed for it to go to a panel and two of the five local volunteers we have sat on it.
“During the meeting the victim made a verbal apology face-to-face with the victim and explained her actions, answering the victim’s questions. The panel also decided that she should be banned from the store.
“The victim found the experience extremely positive.”
Chief Inspector Housley added: “The idea is to pull people together by giving them ownership of the kinds of low level crime and anti-social behaviour, which over time can gradually erode communities. By involving local people in deciding what to do about local problems we are hoping it will empower them to make our towns and villages better places to live and work in.”
* Sgt Liddle is holding a recruitment drive for panel members on Saturday, June 29. If you are interested in finding out more, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
*** A victim’s story
Louis Stead, 24, is a victim of crime who was able to face the two men who stole a radio from his car.
He was alerted to the men sitting in his car while at work in Grantham. He caught up with them further down the road and asked if they had stolen anything. On hearing that they thought the car was abandoned and they were simply sitting in it he believed them and walked away. When he realised they had taken the front panel of his car radio, his trust in people was heavily affected.
Louis, from Swinstead, faced them at a panel meeting. He said: “I told them I felt quite betrayed by the fact they had lied to me. It made me question other people who talk to me and whether they’re being truthful. They said sorry and that they just did it because they could; it was opportunistic.”
The pair agreed to send a letter of apology to Louis, which they did.
Louis feels the community justice scheme should be rolled out across the county. He said: “If cases go to magistrates’ courts you don’t get to meet the offender or tell them how you feel. It’s just guilty or not guilty and then a fine or something. This is far more productive.”