Empowered communities – Why this should be an agenda item
Ahead of our upcoming Speak Up! RJ4All’s Community Forum.
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I felt puzzled when I recently heard the following phrase, “Government sees the cost of everything, but the value of nothing!”. This phrase sums up in just one sentence the real struggle of criminological research and even more precisely the challenges in the prevention field. What relieved me, though, is that the organisation where I work tries to overcome this hurdle and come up with some solid evidence on its prevention scheme and work within the community, based on the practices and values of restorative justice.
UK is notoriously bad in prevention work, and this is now well established, especially if we tap into the recent news that UK will seek to rent prison cells in foreign jails to deal with its overpopulation and its ultimately reactive policy (1). Undoubtedly, short terms reactive solution should come to an end and give space to long-term preventive approaches. I am proud to be part of one such proposal within RJ4All.
SE16 Restorative Justice Postcode project
RJ4All has recently embarked on a postcode-wide project to build the world’s first restorative justice postcode in SE16 (“SE16 Restorative Justice Postcode project“). Since January 2023, RJ4All has been monitoring the effects of the RJ4All Rotherhithe Community Centre in SE16 London in combatting criminality, injustices, power abuse and inequality.
Apparently, our project strives to reconcile local authorities, key stakeholders within the criminal justice system, the community and its residents and permit them to stand on the same side! Prompted by the international efforts for “Restorative Cities” (2), we decided to start a case study in our own “home” in SE16 and test whether our restorative justice practices and “ethos” can lead in the development of a Restorative Justice Postcode. This venture should allow local power to be disseminated equally among the community, local government, key voluntary, community, private and public organisations. We believe that a community where everything is dealt with by key stakeholders on the grounds of the restorative justice “ethos” will lead to an improvement of crime prevention, power-distribution, community cohesion and the reduction of the root causes that lead to anti-social behaviour and harm.
Ultimately, RJ4All actively strives to RE-unite everyone in SE16 behind the values and practices of restorative justice including of power-sharing, equality, dignity, respect and involvement in decision making. By developing relationships between police, local authorities and community members as opposed to reactive policing strategies, we want to reduce tensions between offenders and police, worsening the load on the penal system.
Power redistribution and our restorative justice model
But why so much effort to re-unite?
We have evidence to believe that public trust in public services, especially including the police and the local decision-making authorities (3), is declining and that a new social contract between communities and governments is needed. Through this new social contract, we wish to give back to the community its voice in order to feed the policy-making authorities towards a positive, bottom-up prevention framework.
Traditionally, criminologists and policy-makers focused on the negative traits that lead people to crime and subsequently sought to root out these factors to reduce violence. However, the harm and violent, anti-social behaviour is the result of a combination of factors, most of which are societal failures. Therefore, instead of looking at the individual as a risk and trying to manage the factors that trigger this risk, the RJ4All model works towards a positive, growth-oriented change in life where a person works on the development of the values, skills and resources towards life based on human goods. (4) Our approach nurtures the individual’s personal strengths and goals to break the circle of violence and help the individual to obtain these goods, without violence.
Community engagement and individual empowerment are our vital keys to redistribute the power and achieve community cohesion and reduction of community tensions and anti-social behaviour.
That said, we decided to actively give voice to our community through our community consultations that take place quarterly. They are called “Speak Up” events and they are literally an occasion for local councillors, stakeholders and residents to have a say about THEIR community and aspirations for Southwark. If we want to be called a Restorative Postcode, all the tensions, harm, injustices and anti-social behaviours in our community cannot be managed through adversarial routes. Contrariwise, everyone’s voice must be heard, and all community members should be part of the community discourse and solutions. It is well established by now that community cohesion can effectively adverse criminality levels and support healthy and vibrant communities.
Current Policy Orientations
Before I conclude it is best to highlight that our effort to enhance community voice and support a bottom-up, community-driven approach is not within a vacuum. It is no surprise that European institutions have long stressed the vital role of communities in the prevention and countering of criminality and violence in general. (5) Policymaking cannot and should not be divorced from community empowerment and it seems that this is something that UK government has also picked up on. The Levelling Up the United Kingdom White Paper sets off a journey on equal power distribution across the UK. More precisely, it sets out that levelling up requires amongst other goals to “restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost; and empower local leaders and communities, especially in those places lacking local agency”. (6) By shifting to community, the government sees the potential of immense crime prevention by 2030. (7) To corroborate this mission, the Levelling Up Commission in Curia has embarked on an evidence-collation journey, hearing from local entities, leaders from local, regional and national government, together with service providers and service users.
To corroborate this mission, the Levelling Up Commission in Curia has embarked on an evidence-collation journey, hearing from local entities, leaders from local, regional and national government, together with service providers and service users.
RJ4All’s mission and work seem to be perfectly placed within the government’s current agenda but ultimately within the whole spirit of where the law and public authorities should stand. Our effort is aligned with various international efforts to form Restorative Cities, while to add up to this, impressive initiatives on Restorative Schools have also been set out across the UK and worldwide.
The blog was drafted by Sofia Sideridou, Projects Coordinator at RJ4All. For any questions, please contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Siddique, H. (2023, October 3). UK could rent space in foreign jails to ease shortage of cells. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/oct/03/uk-could-rent-space-in-foreign-jails-to-ease-shortage-of-cells
 Liebmann, M. (2015). Building the restorative city. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318587529_Building_the_restorative_city
 Mlcek, C., Costa, C. & Gavrielides, T. (2023). Building the World’s First Restorative Justice Postcode: First Quarterly Impact Report. Restorative Justice for All. https://irp.cdn-website.com/c0b1f356/files/uploaded/RJ%20Postcode_Qualitative%20Paper.pdf
 Gavrielides, T. and Worth, P (2014). “Another push for restorative justice: Positive psychology & offender rehabilitation” in Crime: International Perspectives, Socioeconomic Factors and Psychological Implications”, New York: Nova Science Publishers.
 Gavrielides, T. (2022) Restorative justice & Violent Radicalisation in criminal justice settings. A training handbook, London: RJ4All Publications, ISBN: 978-1-911634-61-4.
 HM Government. (2022) Levelling Up the United Kingdom Executive Summary. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/levelling-up-the-united-kingdom