A man convicted of manslaughter who turned his life around after meeting his victim’s parents said helping young people to navigate their emotions is key to breaking the cycle of violence.
Jacob Dunne was given a 30-month prison sentence after delivering a single punch to a complete stranger after an argument in the Old Market Square, Nottingham, in 2011.
The victim, a 28-year-old paramedic called James Hodgkinson, sadly died in hospital nine days later.
Jacob, a former gang member from The Meadows who was involved in drinking, drugs and violence, served his sentence before being offered the chance to go through the restorative justice process – which allows victims and perpetrators of crime to communicate and find a positive way forward.
It was then he met James’ parents Joan Scourfield and David Hodgkinson, which he says was the pivotal moment that sparked a transformation in him. Incredibly, they forgave Jacob and even encouraged him to return to education and make something of his life.
Since then, he has become a Community Ambassador for the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Violence Reduction Unit – helping vulnerable young people avoid a life of violence and crime. He has also gained a first-class Criminology degree and written a book about his experiences called 'Right from Wrong: My Story of Guilt and Redemption.'
Speaking during Restorative Justice Week, Jacob today said his experience had taught him that too many young people were not being equipped with the emotional intelligence needed to deal with life’s inevitable difficulties.
“It’s hurt people that hurt people – and so if we create environments to support people to have healthy relationships with themselves, I would say they are automatically less likely to want to go around hurting people,” he said.
“The way we are taught to deal with our problems is through retaliation and hate, which is why we’ve got so many young kids stabbing each other and why we’ve got so many hate crimes happening – because no one has been taught how to deal with grief or deal with unhelpful emotions.
“That is the preventative side of what I do now, which is the relational skills and the mental health skills and teaching young people so that when they are older in life, they’ve got the tools to be able to respond to uncomfortable feelings and traumatic events.”
Jacob was 19 at the time of the fateful assault and if it hadn’t been for his experience of restorative justice, he may have taken a very different path to the one he is on now as a 30-year-old father-of-two.
“Restorative justice gives you a choice as to the way you’re going to respond,” he said. “It was the thing that sparked the change for me.
“It’s about having difficult conversations and everybody being able to express the harm that’s been caused to them. It also allows a path forward for somebody to reimagine an alternative future with meaning.
“Although that is quite difficult it can be quite liberating for someone who has been committing crime – but then it’s about putting the right support in place for that person to reintegrate properly.
“Restorative justice is good at trying to make people more accountable for their actions and how they make other people feel, but also to make them more aware of how they are feeling and how they are unhealthily managing their own feelings.
“It needs this whole holistic approach to nurture that first spark that a single restorative justice conversation might have, to foster that change within an individual that I was lucky to have had.”
Jacob added that restorative justice could also be hugely beneficial for victims and their families, as their needs are not always met by a seeing a criminal justice outcome. In his case, as he pleaded guilty there were many details that did not come out in court, but through restorative justice he was able to resolve the family’s many unanswered questions – such as whether he had learnt from his mistake and if he realised the harm it had caused.
Restorative justice has been used for many different crime types including burglary and road traffic crime.
Government research shows it helps victims to get answers to their questions, aids recovery and helps them to move on with their lives. It has been proven that offenders are less likely to re-offend following a properly facilitated restorative justice process.
In Nottinghamshire, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner is responsible for commissioning restorative justice, which is currently delivered by qualified and experienced workers at Nottinghamshire Victim CARE, who support victims who wish to start a restorative process.
Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said: “During restorative justice week it is poignant time to reflect on stories like Jacob’s and how that conversation between victim and perpetrator can sometimes be incredibly beneficial for both sides.
“It is not an answer for everyone – and both sides must agree to it for it to happen. But when it does happen, it can at least help people understand and start the process of coming to terms with what has happened. Sometimes it can be transformational to people’s lives.”
If you would like some support with restorative justice, please contact Notts Victim CARE on 0800 304 7575 or What is Restorative Justice (nottsvictimcare.org.uk) .