Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Ellis, has agreed funding for a crucial role that helps bring offenders face-to-face with their victims to make amends.
The decision means that a Neighbourhood Justice Panel coordinator for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, employed by Victim Support, will be financed for another year.
Facilitated by volunteers, Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJP) give victims an opportunity to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, get answers to their questions and an apology. They also give offenders the chance to understand the real impact of their actions and to do something positive to repair the damage.
Panels deal with a variety of offences not serious enough to prosecute through the courts, or where cautions and fixed penalty notices are inappropriate. These include criminal damage and anti-social behaviour.
Victims decide if an offence is referred to a NJP which then takes place if the offender also wants to attend, admit responsibility and put things right.
At a panel, offenders are asked a number of questions about the offence they committed before the victim is given the chance to talk about how the crime has affected them personally. A solution is then mutually agreed between the victim and the offender.
Sue Arnold, Staffordshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, said, “This funding demonstrates our commitment to support victims, make offenders take personal responsibility and face-up to their unacceptable behaviour. Often the best way to repair harm and prevent more problems is for people to meet and work through what’s happened.
“Neighbourhood Justice Panels deliver this in a structured way. They are not a soft option – they make the offender face-up to the impact of what they have done.”
Melina Hancox, Regional Manager for Victim Support in Staffordshire, said, “Victim Support is delighted to be coordinating Neighbourhood Justice Panels across Staffordshire and welcomes the Commissioner’s support. Panels put victims first and at the centre of the process. The decision as to whether a panel takes place is theirs. They give victims a real voice and an opportunity to have their say. They can also get the answers to any questions they may have, enabling them to move forward after an incident or a crime.”
Assistant Chief Constable Julian Blazeby added, “We welcome this decision, we with many of our partner agencies have recognised the value of restorative justice in Staffordshire when dealing with conflict and harm in communities. Often the best way to repair harm and to reduce further problems is for parties involved to meet and work through what’s happened. Neighbourhood Resolution Panels (NRP) have been enabling this to happen in a structured way in Staffordshire over the past year or so.
Panels are a free resource available to any agency working in communities to resolve conflict and harm caused by Crime and Antisocial Behaviour.
The coordinator, Libby Nock who is based in Penkridge, has been in post for 12 months and is responsible for managing referrals, allocating and supervising cases and recruiting and training panel volunteers.
There are currently 27 trained volunteers who can facilitate NJPs across Staffordshire. Funding means that a further 26 volunteers can now be trained. Volunteers are drawn from the communities where the problems occur.