Punishment fitting the crime?

What happened…

The offender’s life was falling apart – no job, no money, marriage on the rocks and in deep depression.  Having no answers, the offender turned to crime (first time offender) – on the “spur of the moment”, pulled up his hoodie, donned sunglasses and went into a small branch of a bank and demanded money – said he had a gun and would use it.

The teller handed over around £5000 and the offender walked out of the bank – he had got away with it.  In a fit of guilt he said that he threw the money into the sea…

The next month the necessity for money hit again and he repeated the crime – a different bank branch but the same MO.  However this time the teller managed to put marked notes in the money, as the offender left the bank she shouted robbery and several customers ran after him.  The offender turned and threatened them, so they stopped but they got the car number – he was arrested and eventually served a prison sentence and probationary period.

In prison he started out by feeling very sorry for himself.  Then he began to think about the people he had harmed.  The people in the banks that he had robbed – how had they felt?  His family – the impacts on them…

Talking to the prison priest he felt he had to makes amends in some way.  He asked if he could meet his victims and apologise.  As mediators we had to assess whether he was genuinely remorseful and whether such a meeting might help or harm the victims.  We felt that a meeting between the offender and victims could help the victims.

There were four tellers – only one was prepared to meet him.  She was very angry and wanted to tell him how his crime had impacted her – and her fellow tellers.

A meeting was arranged – it was very difficult for both participants and, we had to ensure that both were safe and the meeting would help not harm either.

Within a short time, our ‘strong’ victim suddenly wept – then gathered herself together and told him how she had felt then and now, the impact on the other tellers – one would never work again, one left the bank immediately and the other two including herself had sleepless nights, were nervous while in the bank and it had changed all of his victims’ lives.

The offender’s rationale for what he described as ‘out of character’ behaviour was his mental state – the depths of his depression.  Our victim was enraged and very eloquent about his statement, exclaiming that if everyone who had depression acted as he did, our world would be in a terrible mess.

However there was one other factor that made the victim so very angry – the offender had only served 8 months in prison and three years on probation – she felt that the punishment did not fit the crime.  Anger at the Justice system made the crime worse for her.  The offender had a lot of support in prison and while his was on probation.  The victims had virtually no support (a bunch of flowers), whereas the trauma that the victims had suffered from the experience elicited little or no support.  Each one of the victims would live with this trauma for the rest of their lives.

This stunned the offender, as he felt that he should have done work within the community rather than serve a prison sentence.  He had a sudden realization that perhaps his friends and family might also feel this but had never said this to him…

The offender was deeply shocked at the outcomes he was not aware of, he said sorry many times but recognized how lame this was …  We are sure that he won’t commit another crime, will also carry a much bigger burden of guilt and that he will try to make amends indirectly for the rest of his life.

Our victim will probably always feel that justice was not done but she made the offender and us aware of how the Justice department can make the victims feel let down by what seems inadequate sentences…

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