Car Theft –

Victim Empathy Programme; Restorative Conference


Car Theft

Victim Empathy Programme; Restorative Conference

Eamon was a teenager who committed multiple offences, predominantly related to car theft. His parents were separated and he spent his time living between their houses. Eamon was described as quiet and struggled to express emotions and with his self-confidence. In this case, there was an element of him being addicted to the “buzz” of stealing cars, combined with a bravado and desire to fit in with his peer group. Eamon’s Probation Officer conducted an assessment and deemed that he was suitable for a Victim Empathy Programme (VEP) due to his lack of empathy towards his victims and escalation in risky behaviour, particularly in relation to stealing and joyriding cars. The Probation Officer made a referral to an NGO’s restorative justice project. 

From the start, the Probation Officer thought that Eamon’s case might take a long time, given his difficulties with expressing himself. The Probation Officer requested that a VEP was to be carried out over approximately a 10-week period. This would give Eamon time to reflect on his actions in a supportive environment, with the assistance of a Restorative Justice Project Officer. 

During the first few weeks of the VEP, Eamon was very shy. While he was polite, most answers were monosyllabic. As the weeks progressed, Eamon became more confident and was able to express himself much better. As his case progressed, it became apparent from his VEP work that he would benefit from participating in a restorative conference. Throughout the VEP, Eamon’s levels of empathy increased and he demonstrated signs of remorse. He was also now in a position to see that his risky behaviour was a source of stress and worry to his parents. It was discussed and agreed with Eamon and his parents that a restorative conference might help him process the shame associated with his behaviour and provide him with an avenue to be accountable and possibly make amends to his family and victims.

At a midway review of the VEP involving Eamon, his mother, the Probation Officer and the NGO’s Restorative Justice Project Officer, it was agreed that Eamon would benefit from a restorative conference. In Eamon’s case, there were multiple victims involved and the timeline from date of offence was over two years. Therefore, it was agreed with Eamon and his parents to involve a victim representative. A person from a victim support agency agreed to represent the voice of the victims at the conference. A number of preparation sessions took place ahead of this, and the Project Officer met with Eamon on a weekly basis. Preparation meetings also took place with Eamon’s mother and father. The restorative questions were used to prepare the parties. The logistics of the conference – including its date, venue and seating arrangements, and the order in which they would speak – were discussed and agreed with all parties.

The conference took place with Eamon’s parents present, along with his Garda Case Manager and a victim representative. In the weeks leading up to the conference, Eamon was nervous about how the victim representative would react and wondered: “will they go mad at me?” The Restorative Justice Project Officer reassured him that the victim representative was also being prepared for the meeting and they would only participate if the worker were confident that both parties would be respectful to one another. Eamon was also made aware that the victim representative was not his actual victim but was a representative of his victims of crime. This lessened Eamon’s fears but, on the day, he shook as he waited for the meeting to commence. He was asked if he was happy to go ahead and he agreed, saying that he was nervous about it. During the conference, while still visibly nervous, Eamon expressed himself and said how he felt. He apologised to those present. He took responsibility by saying to his parents that it was not their fault. Eamon’s mother also acknowledged that she played a part in covering up for Eamon and had not been truthful of his whereabouts.

After the meeting, all the parties came together for refreshments and chatted for a while. The victim representative shook Eamon’s hand and they thanked each other for coming. Here are some of the recorded quotes:

Father: “I know for a fact that if my son didn’t get the help he got he would be in jail. […] He listened and he understood and he took it all on board.”

Mother: “Go to every meeting with your child, even if you don’t feel like it. It will be all worthwhile in the end.”

Garda Case Manager: “It was good to see him stand up and take responsibility for his actions, and he showed remorse to those he had hurt. […] My heart nearly burst when the Mam admitted she had lied to me. I was delighted she had admitted it. It was a huge relief.”

Eamon: “It was good to get the opportunity to tell my parents I didn’t mean to hurt them. […] It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

Eamon, when contacted six months later, had not reoffended. Additionally, he moved from 36 (little or no empathy) to 10 (a lot of empathy) on the Victim Empathy Scale, which is a tool used to measure outcomes for young people. Eamon’s ability to express himself improved immensely from session one, in which he answered monosyllabically, to the final session, in which he was much more open and able to express himself. Using the new skills he developed in the VEP, Eamon also reviewed his friendship group and took steps to stay away from peers that would encourage him to engage in criminal behaviour.

Regular discussions took place with the Restorative Justice Project Officer and their line manager throughout Eamon’s case. Inter-agency collaboration and effective communication between the NGO, Gardaí, Probation Service and victim support agencies were also key to the success of the conference.