Restorative Adult Practices (RAPs)

Karen Matland RAPs worker Northern Ireland Alternatives

Alternatives RAPs is responsible for the oversight and delivery of restorative programmes to adult adjudicated offenders referred by the Probation Board of Northern Ireland.

Inspired by the philosophy and practices of restorative justice, the programme focuses on the reparation of harm done to relationships and people over and above the need for assigning blame and dispensing punishment.  It offers the opportunity to explore the offence (s) committed, the harm caused and ways to work towards a better future in a setting which draws upon key values such as respect, inclusion, ownership, non-judgemental and empowerment to both victim and offender where possible.

This can be done in a number of ways including:

  • Victim/Offender Mediation
  • Victim Awareness
  • Offender Support
  • Community Reparation

Throughout the process intensive support is given to referrals to assist them in developing a plan to address the needs of the people they have hurt including their victims, their community and themselves in order to make positive changes in their lives.

The Restorative Adult Practices Programme or RAPs for short takes referrals from the following Probation teams:

North Belfast/South Antrim

North Antrim &

Inspire (which is a Probation specific project for women offenders)

and covers from Coleraine right down to Bangor with offences ranging from:

Assault, driving offences, criminal damage, benefit fraud, burglary, shop lifting, possession of offensive weapons and various drug related offences to name but a few.

The programme is purely voluntary and each referral makes a commitment to engage on the programme for a minimum of 4 weeks and a maximum of 12 (however in some cases referrals have remained on the programme for longer either due to the complexity of the offence with the restorative intervention process taking longer or because some referrals have a very chaotic lifestyle andrequire more long term support to look at the hurt and harm caused in their offending behaviour.)

The programme itself adopts a very holistic approach; as well as completing offence focused work around victim and harm awareness it also seeks to explore reasons for offending with support mechanisms put into place to help the referral make more positive changes in their life.  These include such things as education, training and job skills, counselling and volunteer opportunities.

Below is a case study which provides more of an insight into the programme and highlights the various achievements of engaging in the RAPs programme.

CASE STUDY

A young single mother was referred to the RAPs programme – her offence beingtheft of a large sum of money from the organisation she was working for.

Through telling her story it emerged that not only was she estranged from her family but also had been in an extremely abusive relationship for a number of years.  Her partner was a heavy gambler and relied on her to provide for his addiction.  She felt trapped and saw no other way of being able to provide for her young daughter and her partner’s addiction except by stealing small sums of money on a regular basis from her place of work.  Having received a 2 year probation order and an agreement to pay back the money she agreed to engageon the RAPS programme to explore a more restorative resolution to her actions.

After a period of intense preparation both the referral and representative from the organisation agreed to a face to face mediation culminating in an emotional, honest and successful meeting for both parties.

Aside from the mediation she linked in with Women’s Aid where she went onto complete their ‘Journey to Freedom’ programme.  She also became involved in a local floristry class and now volunteers for her local community doing floral decorations at various different events.  She seems to have completely turned her life around – she is no longer in contact with her ex-partner and is slowly building relationships with her mother, father and friends again.  In her words she described the whole restorative process for her as ‘being the hardest thing she had ever had to do’.  Standing in court had been easy in comparison because she felt like a number (very impersonal) but the RAPs programmehumanised everything for her and she now fully appreciated the impact her actions had had on everyone.