An interview with Soo Brizell, former Service Manager, Make Amends.

Soo Brizell is the Service Manager for Shekinah’s restorative justice service Make Amends. Joining the team just less than a year ago, Soo has taken time to reflect on what the last 12 months has been like, especially delivering restorative justice during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is restorative justice?

Most people do not regularly experience the criminal justice system. When they do, it is usually because they have been a victim of crime. When this happens, their experience with the justice system can be stressful, confusing and can dominate their life. Serious criminal cases can take years to conclude with lives being ruined, relationships damaged, and careers put on hold. Restorative justice helps address and heal the harm caused by both the crime directly and the impact of being an unwilling participant in the criminal justice system.

Restorative justice provides the means for a victim to communicate with the offender and share how the crime has affected them. It can create the opportunity to have questions answered and for the offender to understand and realise the impact of their crime on an individual, family, and community.

Facilitated by trained practitioners (such as those within my team at Make Amends), communication can be face to face, through letter exchange or shuttle mediation and has at its heart the need to heal and not create more harm for the victim, and as such the restorative process itself is measured meticulously and maintaining a person’s safety is a key priority.

This is a real and significant opportunity for the victim, often left powerless and without a voice following the crime, to take back control of their lives and start moving forward.

What do you see are the top 3 benefits of restorative justice? 

The biggest question people ask us is what are the benefits of restorative justice? Whilst the benefits are numerous, the following top 3 points are central to our thinking and impact:

  1. Victims of all crime including serious crime can benefit – in particular restorative justice has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of trauma which is considerable given the impact of trauma on mental and physiological health.
  2. Victims have a voice with restorative justice – a sense of empowerment and feelings of inclusion in their case.
  3. Reduction in re-offending – this is important as not only does it reduce crime it holds particular value for many victims not wishing others to experience crime in the way they have. Police, the National Probation Service and criminal justice organisations are at resource capacity, so less crime reduces tension in these services as well as cost and time (The UK Government has found that for every £1 spent on restorative justice £8 is saved)

Victims, perpetrators, their friends, family and the wider community can all benefit from restorative justice and it can be used successfully for all crime types including serious and violent crime, however this doesn’t mean that we progress all cases. We need to consider risk and avoiding re-traumatising the involved parties.

If we apply a restorative lens to those who are involved in the criminal justice system, we always ask ourselves: can we safely consider restorative justice for this case? How might restorative justice allow us to help a victim and offender move forward and away from crime?

Why Make Amends?

Make Amends is an accredited, well established restorative justice service run as part of Shekinah. Having worked at Shekinah for several years focussing on ending homelessness through collaborative partnerships with the public and private sectors, I was interested in a personal development opportunity to train as a Volunteer Practitioner with Make Amends.

My eyes were opened as to how people are affected by crime and as victims, their experiences of the criminal justice environment. Volunteering with the Make Amends Plymouth Practitioner I developed my interest in restorative justice and saw first-hand how Make Amends worked to help heal the harm caused by crime. In November 2019 a wonderful opportunity was presented to apply for the role of Service Manager, and I would have been a fool not to apply! I officially started in post in January 2020. I’m proud to manage a professional, qualified, accredited, experienced team of Practitioners and volunteers. Each Practitioner whilst working on all crime types has their area of interest including Domestic Abuse, Family & Young People and Serious and Violent Crime. I learn every day from the team, they are inspiring and an absolute joy to work with.

I’m also delighted to say that 2020 has seen us become an award-winning team. In October, we won the National Howard League Award for Restorative Approaches.

How has Covid-19 impacted Make Amends?

Covid-19 presented me with a steep learning curve from a service perspective and also from a wellbeing and pastoral perspective for my team. A recent webinar ‘Leadership in the Face of Adversity’ summed it up: “I had to quickly get to know my team on a deeper level so I could best support them working from home whilst home-schooling and supporting them with their anxieties about Covid”. I had to ensure Make Amends was flexible enough to deal with the changing environment that was affecting courts, police and criminal justice organisations with whom we work.

The Make Amends team responded in a way that showed their personal and professional resilience as they adapted to no face-to-face meetings (a hugely important aspect of their case work). Everything was delivered online and via the teleconferencing. Our forms were sent electronically so in effect we streamlined our admin and paperwork which was positive.

Working from home has been tough, I recognise that the team are often working with complex and challenging information and there is no differentiation from home environment to work environment. What was your sanctuary at the end of the working day had been lost so I tried hard to ensure that the team didn’t put any additional pressures on themselves by implementing flexible working around caseloads and being responsible for their families who were also at home.

Covid has fast-tracked some great partnerships for Make Amends and has helped foster and nurture some great peer support for me across the world of restorative justice. I am working with inspiring people who have helped accelerate my learning of restorative justice and the criminal justice system. I am extremely grateful for the support of the Make Amends team and key people in the police and criminal justice world who help turn my ideas into reality and challenge me when required!

What have I learnt since joining Make Amends?

It’s been nearly a year since I took on the role of Service Manager and I have gained so much experience and learnt a great deal. Below are my reflections from the past 12 months.

  • Restorative Justice is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Criminal justice organisations work incredibly hard supporting both victims and perpetrators. Many of these organisations have experienced austerity measures and operational challenges through the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The resilience of victims of crime is humbling.
  • We need to do more as a society to prevent young people entering a life of crime.
  • There are some amazing national restorative justice services with whom Make Amends is now working with. Many of these relationships have been created from online over recent months via Zoom forums!
  • Make Amends works with partners across Devon and Cornwall and through collaboration, we make a real difference to those whose lives have been affected by crime.
  • The Make Amends team have a knowledge and passion for restorative justice that is second to none. I am inspired by each and every Practitioner in the team.
  • There are always opportunities to improve and develop new ways of working and the opportunities to collaborate are numerous across Devon and Cornwall.

What’s next? What does the future hold?

Restorative Justice Week took place from the 15th – 22nd November 2020 and this event fuelled my desire to develop Make Amends as a service – working harder to ensure a higher percentage of victims are offered restorative justice following a crime and further develop transformational partnerships to drive forward the impact of restorative justice.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time researching restorative practices in Australia and Europe and identifying opportunities to adopt and develop their best practice into our Make Amends service.

The vision for Make Amends is to become a Centre of Excellence so some priority areas for us moving forward are to work with schools and help embed restorative practise in an education environment., and also to explore greater use of restorative justice with serious and violent crime. We are developing a training programme that will also engage our business network to offer restorative justice training as CPD opportunities whilst also using the training to support employee volunteering with Make Amends.

How can restorative justice be accessed?

If you or someone you know has been affected by crime and would like to access support, please do email us at makeamends@shekinah.co.uk or telephone 01803 222033.

More information can also be found at www.shekinah.co.uk/restorative-justice