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Place victim awareness at forefront of criminal justice says probation boss
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04 Jun 2019 / justice Print

Place victim awareness at forefront of criminal justice says probation boss

Vivian Geiran of the Probation Service said that the Irish criminal justice system must listen to, and engage meaningfully with, victims of violence.

Geiran spent the first four years of his career working with men who had perpetrated sexual violence.

He said that these crimes involved a dehumanising of the victim, and that increased victim awareness was an important part of any rehabilitation.

“We always seek to create lasting positive change in the people with whom we work,” he said.

Challenging

Supervising sex offenders in the community and in prison is particularly challenging, he commented, since perpetrators must be held to account for their behaviour at all times.

He asked whether survivors were actually regarded as stakeholders in the criminal-justice system once guilt had been established, after which the focus often switched to managing the criminal offenders.

Dr Geiran said that he had been told by victims that their safety, rights and interests were being ignored in the criminal-justice system. This was a challenge for probation workers.

“What is in the best interests of the community in the way we do our work?” he asked.

The Sex Offenders Act 2001 and Sexual Violence Act 2006 were the legal parameters for court orders in this work, he said.

Not all victims sought retribution alone. Many simply wanted to prevent recurrence of the offence, he said.

Aftermath

Restorative justice methods were now in use, which sought to address the aftermath of sexual trauma and violence, Dr Geiran said.

The European Victims Directive, now transposed into Irish law, also sought to reduce victimisation.

“The reality is that punishment and sanctions-based approaches are not effective in keeping communities safe from re-offending,” Geiran pointed out.

He said victims had a legitimate interest in having a stronger voice. Restorative justice (RJ) processes should provide a neutral space where parties could participate voluntarily.

Accountability

For the offender, modelling pro-social behaviour and involving the guilty in their rehabilitation, with attendant circles of support and accountability, were part of the RJ approach.

Different victims wanted different outcomes, however, including, in some cases, follow-up information on the progress and location of their perpetrator.

However, offender probation services often could not give this information freely, due to data-protection constraints.

Victim services and offender services shouldn’t be kept completely separate and disconnected, Geiran commented. He questioned whether they were, by their nature, mutually exclusive.

“Do we collaborate sufficiently with victim advocates?” he asked.

Perhaps key information should be sought from victims to guide rehabilitation approaches.

Reluctance

“What is our reluctance to go down this road?” he asked.

He examined how far a victim-centred approach was compatible with the work of offender rehabilitation.

Offenders had human rights also, in terms of data protection and privacy.

Harm

Those working with offenders must never lose sight of the harm those offenders do, he said, and risks to public safety must be managed in a satisfactory fashion.

But we must listen to, and engage meaningfully with, victims of violence, he said.

Geiran concluded that the Victims’ Directive had helped to put a structured response in place for victims. It has resulted in more focus by agencies on an end-to-end overview, as well as service co-ordination.

Gazette Desk
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