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Dr Alan Billings

Dr Alan Billings

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I was recently ticked off in one of our local papers for funding ‘social work’ rather than tackling crime. Every penny should be spent on catching criminals and locking them up.

The correspondent didn’t elaborate on what this ‘social work’ was, but I could guess. Much of it would be the sort of interventions that the Violence Reduction Unit is making possible.


Yet on the day I read her comments, I had a video call with a man who had been a prolific burglar. He wanted to tell me about how he had turned his life round.

Since the age of twelve he had been offending, and had spent all of his adulthood in and out of prison. But in his last spell inside he had started to think seriously about his life and whether he wanted his later years to be a repetition of what had gone before. In particular, he found himself wondering what effect his burglaries had on his victims.

These moments of reflection may be rare, but if they happen, we need ways to help offenders use them to make radical change happen.

This man was lucky. He knew about Restorative Justice (RJ) – something I fund – which enables offenders and victims to make contact with one another under carefully managed circumstances and where both parties agree.

He was able to contact one of his victims who was willing to meet him and tell him how devastating his actions were for her: the loss of sentimental items that she would never see again; the fear every time she went home after the burglary.

He said her story had made him even more determined to make the break with drugs and crime.

If this is ‘social work’ I make no apologies for it. In the long run, turning him away from crime will have a bigger impact than more years of burglaries, arrests and imprisonment.