CRJ: a viable replacement for punishment beatings?

In theory, all the political parties are in favour of Community Restorative Justice. It was developed in New Zealand, essentially to build bridges within marginalised communities mostly between young offenders and their often older victims. Sinn Fein has been an enthusiatic backer of CRJ, helping to set up many of the fourteen privately funded schemes. They believe it is a viable alternative to punishment beatings and exiling. Without police involvement and human rights protection, the SDLP strongly disagrees.

  • JD

    The SDLP are totally at sea on this issue, as their policy is being driven by Alex Attwood, who is totally blind to the good work that CRJI are doing. Any objective view of these projects can see that they are being effective and are now internationally recognised as being some of the most comprehensive and advanced programmes anywhere in the world. The SDLP are fighting a unsuccessful rearguard action on policing they know they jumped too soon and anything that exposes this needs to be attacked, in their view.

  • Jack Grantham

    Agreed JD. The SDLP are looking very foolish on this. Their strategy seems to be to use any opportunity to force the Shinners into contact with the PSNI in order to give themselves cover.

  • That may be so guys. If they’re wrong they’ll no doubt pay for it at the next polls (whenever that is likely to be).

    It does seem as though there is a substantive (non-political?) point worth discussing here, which is: what may run ‘acceptably’ in absentia of the state, may not pass muster once partially co-opted by the state.

    It is this partial nature of the proposals that raises understandable concerns. For instance, will the state become liable if at some time in the future actions are taken under human rights law? The answer is almost certainly yes, even though the state is not in a position to guarantee against such occurences.

  • JD

    Mick,

    You must clearly understand the role and remit of CRJ. It is a community based mediation service nothing more, nothing less, with comprehensive training and strict policies and guidelines. As an organisation it values its independance from the state just like many other community and voluntary organisations CAJ, Amnesty, NIACRO etc. The organisation is accountable for its own actions and practice and should stand or fall on those merits alone. It should not be forced to turn itself into something it is not in order to satisfy a narrow political agenda should it be the SDLPs or the NIOs.

  • mnob

    The fear amongst many is if they are not answerable to the state, then who are they answerable to ?

  • JD

    They are answerable in same way any other independant organisation is, they are accountable to their own policies and procedures, complaints mechanisms are in place. They have expressed their desire to be externally scutinised by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate. However all this is not enough for the SDLP as it is not about CRJ it is about defending their stance on policing.

  • PS

    Mick

    They’ve already paid for it at the polls. Since the 1980s when Sinn Féin got involved in electoral politics again, the SDLP never failed to out-poll Sinn Féin. Since joining the policing board, the SDLP have been outvoted by Sinn Féin at every election.

  • Belfastwhite

    I would have thought that CRJ are accountable to the law of the land like any other organisation. If they are negligent in any way the courts will decide so.

  • Fionna

    I’ve thought the CRJ to be a troubling prospect if they are just filling up with former paramilitary members. However, I wonder if anyone could give me a first hand account of their experience with the CRJ in a conflict situation.

  • JD

    Over the Christmas period an argument developed beween children in a street about the toys they had recieved from Santa, this was obviuosly relatively minor however the parents of the various children got to hear about it. A number of days later, a bit the worse for drink, one of the parents approached the other about the incident and words were exchanged. Later that evening, with more alcohol consumed, a fight broke out and some quite serious injuries were incured. The following day, it became apparent that wider family members were likely to become involved in the dispute. One of the family members contacted CRJ and asked for their assistance. CRJ practitioners approached both disputant families and asked if they wanted to involve themselves in a process of mediation. Both, and particularly the two original assailants, agreed. After a two hour long session in a neutral venue the dispute was resolved and the participants shoke hands and felt justice had been done. This mediation took place the day after St Stephens Day, when most other organisations were firmly on holiday.

    Only one of countless examples.

  • Fionna

    JD,
    That’s fair. I can see such an organization being helpful in that kind of dispute. I think the murky area comes in form of more serious issues…
    And for the record, two drunks fighting over Christmas toys actually deserve to be sorted out by the IRA.
    FK

  • JD

    “And for the record, two drunks fighting over Christmas toys actually deserve to be sorted out by the IRA.”

    What are you talking about? the IRA had nothing to do with this incident or its resolution. Are you incapable or unwilling to accept that CRJ is a bone fide organisation with volunteers and practitioners from many political persuasions and none.

  • Fionna

    I was joking is what i was doing…
    I am fully willing to accept this organization, as I said, I am only curious how it will operate with more serious matters…My concerns deal mostly with the training of the individual memebers and accountability outside of the courtroom.

  • JD

    “I think the murky area comes in form of more serious issues… ”

    CRJ has made it very clear that its methods ie. community mediation are most successful in dealing with low level disputes such as the example I gave and that is the level at which it wants to operate. This example may seem trivial however it had the potential to develop into an extremely serious situation, and these types of situations are what effects communities every day. More serious occurances are thankfully not as common. CRJ is merely seeking recognition and resources to allow it continue operating at this level however the SDLP are seeking to turn CRJs work into a political issue in order to cover their back on policing, this is why I feel they are making such a hash of this situation, even Sean Woodward seems to think so.

  • Fionna

    I agree totally about the potential for a ‘small’ incident to turn bad. My joke was aimed at the really sad people who let minor things parlay into violence.
    Do you know if the CRJ has a process by which they refer serious cases brought to them? For instance I was curious what the protocol would be if a case of spousal abuse was brought before them.
    fk

  • Baluba

    It strikes me that a lot of opposition to CRJ and the like comes from people who are ignorant of what they do. They do extremely effective work and should be commended.

    In our not so unique situation as regards policing, this is exactly the type of scheme that should be looked at, trialed and, when successful, supported wholeheartedly.

    Other successful examples of these types of schemes are easily found in Aboriginal communities in Australia and America, where police are also often unwelcome or impotent.

    I have had cause to go to CRJ before about a matter and was very satisfied at the end of it that justice had been served and better than that, a resolution to the causes of the behaviour had been found.

  • Baluba

    Without being an expert or in any way able to speak on behalf of CRJ, I would imagine that spousal abuse would be as difficult to deal with by CRJ as it is by ‘the law’. I do actually think however, that a mediation approach is probably more effective in this case than a slap on the wrist or caution by police.

    Difficult, difficult cases. What definitely would happen though, is that the victim would be provided victim support.

  • Fionna

    I think I expressed “concern” not opposition and have been very clear my aim is to learn what they do from the people that have dealt with them. Because, as we ALL know, there is a big difference between what an organization claims and what they actually do. I think the fact thus far they have a ringing endorsement from two people on this post alone is wonderful. I would love to see this work. But there is nothing wrong w/ wondering what happens in various circumstances…especially since there have been allegations.
    I’m not being negative…just inquisitive…

  • JD

    Fionna,
    CRJ has a policy position on spousal abuse or domestic violence, they do not involve themselves in it. Mediation is totally unsuitable in such a situation. CRJ would refer such an incident to a professional agency such as Womens’ Aid, who have the capacity to deal with it, and support the victim as much as possible in making such a referral.

  • Fionna

    JD,
    Are you getting all this off their website? Where is the source of your information? I’d like to take the time to read it carefully and learn more.
    fk

  • Baluba

    Fionna, aapologies if you thought I was referring to you specifically, it was just timing that our posts coincided. We must have posted simultaneously.

    Again, I’m no expert, I just have experience of their work.

  • I’m a plant now water me

    The C.R.J is not and nor should it ever be acceptable to any human being with even the most rudimentary education as a replacement for a legislative judicial system in any normal society. But without question the mere suggestion of the idea that C.R.J should be even considered for even the most minuscule of roles in an abnormal society that is struggling to come to terms with it’s own universal position post conflict should be an anathema to each and everyone of us.

    How can a group of possibly well meaning individuals working on a part-time basis without correct basic police training of any sort, with no judicial system behind it so enforce decisions made by it, without the support of the community it wishes to serve, without the aid and skill of the local social services which are opposed to its very conception, and an opposing community who completely dismiss the organization as nothing more than a fabrication, an extension of a armed political grouping looking to undergo a metamorphosis that it was in actual conflict with for decades and perceived conflict for centuries.

    How can any organization looking to acknowledged by the local community and indeed the outside world as fair and impartial expect to achieve this when it’s very conception was a political decision by one of the protagonists involved in the conflict as a counter balance to the argument that they were depriving their own community of a recognized police service and judicial system. Thus at its very conception was its fundamental flaw that it was heavily populated with the siblings of one particular political thought, and the fact that they were heavily politicized meant they could not be impartial.

    This same organization stands accused in the media by highly respected women aid groups of conducting its business in a most deplorable manner and indeed of deliberately ensuring justice could not be received by a rape victim because the same organization had embarked on a forensic cleaning operation at the rape scene because known supporters, relative or friends were involved in the incident.

    I think it all really come down to one decision for us all, do we want a police service which can be challenged and made accountable at all times or a possible benefit claiming West Belfast based Taliban with the begging bowel continually in front of them for public money

  • JD

    Fionna,
    I have been involved with CRJ projects in my area for some time and helped in the early discussions about CRJ in an Irish context. There is a website that may give you some further information – http://www.communityrestorativejusticeireland.org

  • Baluba

    Tell us what you really think though, unwatered plant.

    Vitriol + nonsense = don’t know why I’m even replying.

  • Fionna

    Baluba~ no problem…I’m really glad to hear about your positive experience.

    Plant~ I can’t imagine anyone is going to hand CRJ the keys to the kingdom. They aren’t a legislative or even a policing system. However, if they are able to effect some positive change by people willing to turn themselves over for help then great.
    RE…”This same organization stands accused in the media by highly respected women aid groups of conducting its business in a most deplorable …”
    can you forward any information or site links reagarding this? I would like to see them.

    And ditch the misanthropy (be acceptable to any human being with even the most rudimentary education)
    fk

  • kate

    WOW plant!!I was about to post re:the rape situation, but you said it much better than I ever could, so I’d like to endorse what plant has just said!! The CRJ in the rape situation put the victim into the same room as the perp, if I remember reading it correctly, and the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre has said that crimes of this nature require specialist handling. ‘A benefit claiming west Belfast Teleban’ just about sums up how anyone should feel about them. I for one, would not like to be on the recieving end of their ‘justice’.

  • JD

    Im a plant now water me.

    You obviously have absolutely no idea how CRJ operates on the grounds. CRJ do not require police training as they are not a police force. CRJ has regular contact and good working relationships with Social Services, Housing Executive, Probation, Housing Associations and numerous other professional and community organisations. Indeed in early meetings with members of the judicary the concept of community restorative justice was welcomed and some judges were keen to establish protocols or referral procedures. Restorative justice is not an alternative to a policing service or the judicary however it is an alternative to punishment violence and winning the argument in communities were punishment violence has support. Yes, republicans were central to CRJs establishment however it has become much bigger and more important than any political initiatives any political party may have had. Some commentators such as yourself should come and see how these projects operate in reality, rather than believe spurious allegations which have been shown to be groundless but that suit other political agendas.

  • Fionna

    Will someone give me some more info on the rape situation so I can look it up…

  • kate

    Fiona here it is. It’s by Suzzanne Breen at the Sunday Tribune.

    IMC investigates claims that IRA cleaned up gang rape scene

    (by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

    The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) is investigating a report that Provisional IRA members cleaned up the scene of a gang rape and attempted to prevent the victim reporting the crime to police.

    The move follows a Sunday Tribune investigation outlining the claims. The IMC, which monitors paramilitary ceasefires, was alarmed at the allegations. The IMC’s next report will be presented to the two governments in January.

    Eileen Calder of Northern Ireland’s Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre told the Sunday Tribune that IRA members had carried out the clean-up because the perpetrators had connections with the Provos and the controversial Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) scheme which operates in nationalist areas.

    The IMC contacted the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre immediately. On Wednesday, it held a two-hour meeting with staff to discuss the claims.

    The IMC delegation included former Assembly speaker, Lord Alderdice; former Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, John Grieve; and former Department of Justice secretary general, Joe Brosnan.

    “The meeting went well. It was very thorough and we believe what we said was taken seriously,” said Calder. An independent member of the Policing Board, who was equally alarmed by the claims in the Sunday Tribune’s report, also met Calder on Thursday.

    “That was a very positive meeting as well and I am now hoping to address the full Policing Board on the general issue of the policing of rape, including the involvement of these community restorative justice schemes,” she said.

    CRJ has applied for massive British government funding. A decision is expected in the New Year. The SDLP and others have expressed grave concerns as they say the British government’s proposed human rights’ safeguards fall far short.

    Calder said that in the worst situations, CRJ had “threatened women and attempted to cover up crimes committed by those with IRA, Sinn Féin or CRJ connections”.

    November 21, 2005

  • JD

    Fionna,

    I do not have a reference but I am aware of the article that they are referring to. This story is totally unfounded. Apart from the headline, if you get to read the article you will see that its allegations are not about CRJ practitioners but family members of people who may or may not have been involved with CRJ, but then again headlines sell papers and give CRJs political opponents mud to sling.

  • Fionna

    JD,
    Thanks for your help. I found some info on the net but it was all rather vague.
    If anyone can point me to something with more substance that would be great.
    FK

  • Fionna

    Kate,
    I’m sorry I missed you post…reading now!
    THX
    FK

  • JD

    Online I am sure there are loads of articles on restorative justice generally, just google it. But you should contact crj@freederry.org for all the information you need on policies practicies and training programmes.

  • martin ingram

    JD,

    Are you serious when you say CRJ within Republican areas are not a front for the IRA? or are you just playing the audience?

    Martin

  • JD

    Of course I am serious, CRJI has a management committee made up of repected academics, community and voluntary organisations and numerous invitations have been offered to the SDLP to get involved, in order to demonstrate the bona fidas of the organisation. Certainly republicans were central to its establishment and continue to be involved. This happened because its original objective was to offer credible alternatives to punishment violence and republicans were some the first people to see its merits, however this concept has grown and matured and the excellent work that these projects are doing on a totally voluntary basis should be resourced and recognised.

  • missfitz

    Fionna
    I see you have been given some good resources about CRJ, and I thought this also might help. I had some training from Harry Mica about 2 years ago in CRJ and you can find more on http://www.restorativejustice.org

    From the objective perspective, CRJ is an elemental type of dispute mediation, and examples of it are found in many first nation practices.

    As has been stated, it is mainly geared toward younger offenders, to give them a true sense of how their actions cause harm and distress to the victim. I have witnessed excellent examples of practice from Belfast and Derry, and when used in a responsible and monitored fashion, it is an excellent adjunct to other forms of criminal justice.

    It would be a real shame to see CRJ highjacked and sullied, as it is a real alternative for petty crimes.

  • Fionna

    missfitz~
    Thanks so much for the extra information. I have to say I am really interested in this topic and plan to research it in depth. I’ll be eager to see if there is enough data (world wide I would guess) to determine such things as the effects of a crj type scheme on recidivism rates.
    If anyone is interested in sharing information feel free to email me!
    FK

  • martin ingram

    CRJ=PIRA

    Martin

  • Justin

    I think its wrong to present CRJ as an alternative to punishment beatings, when various CRJ spokespersons have made clear they do not get involved in car crime, sexual assualts, etc

    The example given by JD shows how CRJ can be usefull but in no way would the incident referred to have ever been worthy of a punishment beating.

    However, there has to be some link between the police and the CRJ.

    In the example of a neighbourhood dispute getting out of hand the police should be refering it to CRJ for mediation (with the consent of both parties).

    Likewise CRJ groups have a duty to report all serious crime to the police. Rape allegations, car crime, gbh, etc cannot be resolved by mediation.

    After Justice has been devolved and Sinn Féin take their seats on the policing board, this will happen. Alex Attwood is quite correct to ensure that it does.

  • missfitz

    Martin
    Just a quick question….. is the CRJ group on the Shankill a PIRA group?

    Just curious…..

  • Irishman,

    I make that two people you’ve defamed this evening (both posts removed). If you want to make serious allegations about named individuals, then I suggest you do it on your own blog, where you can have it out with the individuals concerned.

    Consider yourself banned.

  • Belfastwhite

    Plant

    It is my understanding that CRJ has no power to “enforce” any action whatsoever. It is a completely voluntary service for both victim and offender which offers alternative avenues other than legal or criminal retribution.

    I fail to see how anyone other than political opponents of parties that have been involved in the setting up of this facility have any problem with this.

  • onanothermanswounds

    Martin Ingram = GOD

  • fionna

    I did a quick bit of research on worldwide CRJ programs last night. (I’m good looking I should really have more to do w/ my nights….kidding)

    Anyway, what I did find is that everywhere, with the exception of NI, the schemes are an external part of the court system. The cases are referred to the CRJ by the court and the CRJ is answerable to them. Almost all the research I read considered them a resounding success. However, recognizing that we have a different animal in NI I don’t think we can draw direct comparisons to predict future success.

    Being that the data is all fairly young the current results show that the recidivism rate is unaffected by these programs. I do believe that there needs to be at least ten years of solid data before this can truly be assessed, which there is not.

    Anyway, that is what I found, for what it is worth.
    FK

  • JD

    Fionna,

    The longest running initiatives are probably in New Zealand, where the programmes have state support and there effects on youth crime and recidivism rates for youth offences have been fairly dramatic, you may want to check there.

    As far as I am aware there are also restorative projects or victim-offender mediation programmes in the US that are church based and have no formal link to the courts or police. I attended a VOMA (Victim Offender Mediation Association)conference in Oregan a number of years ago and the movement in the US is huge, however there is no willingness to adopt it in Foreign policy terms unfortunately.

  • Fionna

    It appears that New Zealand did start to work with CRJ in the early 1990’s but wasn’t widely accepted until several forms of legislation passed in 2002. I had trouble finding recidivism facts from NZ. However, the numbers I did find were from Canada, which showed a 2% drop in recidivism in young offenders and 8% in adult.
    I found information on several programs in the US, including those dealing with Native American populations. I didn’t come across anything church based but will continue to look. Thank you for the info.
    FK

  • Fionna

    Oh and I *just* found those Canada numbers like 5 minutes ago…which is why I didn’t include it in my prior email.

  • missfitz

    Fionna
    As one good looking woman who should stop this to another……

    Have you searched recidivism on the restorativejustice.org site? I did it just a few moments ago and found some good material

  • Fionna

    Ok beautiful I’m headed there now!

  • martin ingram

    missfitz.

    CRJ= On the SHANKILL a variation on the same theme UDA.= CRIMINALS

  • JD

    Martin,

    You again show your ignorance on this subject. The group on the Shankill Road is called Greater Shankill Alternatives, it works with the PSNI and establishes long term programmes for young people at risk from attack from the UVF in effort provide an alternative to punishment attacks. It has no influence or contact, to my knowledge, with the UDA.

  • missfitz

    JD, the group you cite above do really amazing work with the community in a disadvantaged area. Anyone who had a serious interest in the subject of CRJ would do well to inform themselves fully and find out more about some of the good work being done.

  • martin ingram

    Eh Double act. If it is on the Shankill and involves Justice then it is run or at least influenced by the UDA. End of Story.

    Martin.

  • JD

    Martin, you are a prime example of why British Intelligence is an oxymoron. You obviously do not have a clue what you are talking about on this subject but simply want to dismiss the concept because of your anti-republican bias. You are better to leave subjects alone that go over your head.

  • martin ingram

    JD,

    Are you honestly telling us that the CRJ in West Belfast is not manned by IRA ex or serving volunteers .

    I dont say that with any Bias, its just a fact and you know it. I invite you to say different.

    Martin.

  • JD

    I happen to know many CRJ members/volunteers in West Belfast, North Belfast, Derry and Armagh who are not, or never have been IRA members. However I have already stated that republicans are involved including ex-members, or possibly still members of the IRA. It may be hard for you to comprehend but in our communities IRA volunteers are highly repected members of our society, they commend tremendous respect and very well suited to play the role of community mediators. IRA volunteers were the people who stepped forwar in the very dark days of the conflict to take on a numerically and financially superior enemy, and bore the wrath of a corrupt state and its agencies of which you were part. Republican and nationalist people are proud to have such individuals in their midst.

  • rd

    what about the ballymurphy case in 2000 where crj joined forces with the ira to cover up the rape of a teenager? when crj placed the victim and the rapist in the same room to prove the case one way or the other? where the man in question was then given free passage out of belfast and let off the hook. where crj then tried to deny all knowledge of this, but alledgedly paid the guy off? this case has been covered by a number of journalists and is documented, can we now say that crj and the ira do not at the very least work hand in hand – and double up roles.