An Garda Síochána
Three people burgled a suburban home. The youngest of the group was a child in his mid-teens who initially acted as a ‘look out’ for the two others before entering the home after them. Soon after, the Gardaí arrested all three persons in possession of several stolen items. The child was referred to the Garda Youth Diversion Programme as it was his first offence.
The facilitator met with the child and his mother. The child’s mother was very upset by what had happened, and the child was also upset. The mother explained how she had come to Ireland from another country to make a better life for her son. She said that she had secured employment and that things were going well for them. Her son was doing well in school and had other hobbies. She was upset because she felt that the older males had gotten her son involved in this offence. The child was quiet, but said he was upset by what had happened, not least, because of how upset his mother was. When asked if they would be willing meet the harmed persons of this offence, they stated that they would. The mother was especially anxious for that to happen.
The harmed persons were a couple with several children. The facilitator visited them to hear their story. They said that they had come home, opened the front door, and one of their children ran into the house and tripped over cables from a games console that the burglars left in the hall. The home was turned upside down and they and their children were shocked by this.
They stated that their children were still worried about entering their home alone. The facilitator explained that they had spoken to one of the people involved in the burglary and that he and his mother were willing to meet with them if they would like to do so. The couple quickly decided that they would like to take part in such a meeting.
The meeting was set up in a room in a community centre. The couple stated that they did not mind coming into town to meet, and preferred this location. The facilitator also met the child and the mother to prepare them for the meeting. They stated that they did not want any additional supporting persons attending. The child and his mother were asked to arrive ten minutes before the meeting began. They were seated with the backs to the door for the benefit of the harmed persons, who would enter the room after them. The harmed persons arrived and were looking forward to meeting with the child and his mother. They were brought into the room.
The facilitator welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending. The facilitator started by describing the focus of the meeting and asking the child what had happened on the night in question. The child was slow to speak, as his mother was upset. During this time, the female harmed person reached out and put her hand on the child’s mother’s hand, and they appeared to connect immediately. They held hands for the rest of the conference.
The child spoke about how he and two older males had selected a house that seemed quite dark. He said that he stayed in a car outside, and went in after a short time. He described what he did in the home, and how he walked around the downstairs area. He stated that he understood that the couple were affected by what he did and that his mother was also affected. He told the story of being arrested and detained for six hours for questioning and how his mother had to collect him. He did not mention himself as someone who was affected. He was asked all the restorative questions and the facilitator thanked him for his replies.
The facilitator then invited the harmed persons to answer each restorative question together. They described coming home and their child tripping on the cables in the hall. The father asked why they left that game console in the hall rather than taking it. The child stated that he did not remember why they did not take it, but that they probably did mean to take it. The couple said that the impact on their children was massive and that this was why they wanted to meet. They told their children that they were going to meet with the person who had broken into their home, and that they would tell him how they felt and how they were afraid sometimes in their home.
The emotion in the room at this time was strong; both women had tears in their eyes and the men were also quite emotional. The story-telling phase was difficult for everyone. The couple stated that the perpetrator and his mother were also affected by what had happened. The male harmed person expressed concern for the child. He stated that, in a previous job, he met with some lads who had been in some trouble, and he did not want to see this child go down the wrong path. The couple finished by stating that they hardest thing for them was the effect on their children, who were still afraid. Having asked the couple all the restorative questions, the facilitator thanked them for their story.
The facilitator then asked the questions to the child’s mother. She described going to the Garda station to collect her son one evening. She said that she had lost trust in the other male perpetrators. She explained to the couple how she had come to Ireland, learned English and got a job. She was glad to see her son doing well in school, in which he was highly regarded. She had many aspirations for him. She was disappointed with what he had done to the couple and was very sorry for what had happened. The female harmed person assured her that it was not her fault. The mother said that the hardest thing for her was whether she could trust her son again. This was upsetting for the child, with whom the facilitator checked-in to ensure that he was ok.
The facilitator then asked the child whether he saw that harm had been caused by what had happened. He stated that he did. He was then asked if he would like to say anything at this time. He again stated that he was very sorry for what he had done to the couple and to their family. This apology was accepted and the couple were invited to respond. They both got up and shook hands with the child. The mother then stood up and the victims both hugged her. Again, there was a huge amount of emotion in the room. This emotion had changed to become more positive, however, as the apology was given and accepted.
The group were then asked what needed to happen next. The couple stated that they would tell their children that they had met with the wrongdoer and that there was nothing for them to fear. They stated that they wished their children had met him. They interestingly asked what time it was, as they hoped to get a bus back to where they lived. The child and the mother were surprised and acknowledged that the couple had made a great effort to be at the meeting. These small details can make a big impact when perpetrators see how those affected sometimes go the extra mile to meet them.
The facilitator said that he would now supervise the child for a period of twelve months as per the diversion programme guidelines. The couple requested that he would continue to do well in school, do something positive with his life and make his mother proud. The facilitator suggested that the child might write a letter to the couple’s children. They all agreed for this to happen. The group did not think that anything else was needed to repair the harm. They stated that they were very glad to have met each other. They were all invited to make final comments, but did not at this time. They all embraced again as they left the room. The facilitator dropped the couple home and made an appointment to have their home surveyed by a Crime Prevention Officer.
Afterwards, the facilitator commented:
“Loved ones of wrongdoers can be as affected as the harmed persons in conferences. When the two connect, this is very powerful. The facilitator has to be aware that it can be tough on a child when their family tells their story of the offence. In this case, it was amazing to see the female harmed person connect with the mother of the child and the male harmed person connect with the child. We should not be surprised if harmed persons show empathy towards others. We also should not take for granted how any harmed person is feeling. They should be permitted to tell their story should they wish to do so, and if it is deemed to be safe for everyone. Still, facilitators should not assume anything when facilitating or organising a conference: preparation is key.”