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Prisoner meets man affected by his gun crime

Ross Furbert had no qualms about coming face to face with the man who opened fire in a busy bar where he and his daughter were enjoying a night out.

He remembers the shot ringing out and the terror in the room as he tried to get his daughter out of harm's way.

But the memories did not prevent him from walking into Westgate Correctional Facility for the first time to meet the inmate responsible for the shooting that resulted in a young man being seriously injured.

Their meeting was the first conferencing session — when a prisoner meets a person who has been affected by his crime — to take place in Bermuda as part of the prison's restorative justice programme.

It proved to be “an incredibly positive” experience for both men, with the inmate left feeling that he had gone some way towards repairing a relationship in the community.

“When I heard about the programme I did not hesitate and I tried to encourage others who were present to do the same,” Mr Furbert told The Royal Gazette. “At the time of the shooting, I was more concerned about getting my daughter out of danger, so I did not suffer any long-term effects. I thought about what had happened and how unbelievable the situation was, but it did not stop me wanting to do this.

“I knew that only good could come out of meeting him and I came out with a different opinion of this man.”

Mr Furbert met the inmate at the end of September at Westgate in the presence of the prison psychologist, Davina Aidoo, and they spoke for nearly an hour.

Since that time, a second conferencing session has taken place in the prison and there are plans for more in the future.

Mr Furbert said: “Now I have met him I understand him better, and what he was going through back when this happened.

“Once you meet that individual it becomes personal and you get an insight into the true facts.

“He apologised to me and was extremely remorseful. He also expressed great sadness that he had let down his family and his young son. I have told him that when he is released he can come and see me and talk to me again if he wants.

“I encourage him to be positive when he gets out, because there are going to be people who have already judged him and have their own views.

“He must steer clear of those negative influences and be positive in his approach. If I can help him do that, I will.”

Although restorative justice programmes are common in other jurisdictions, the approach has only been rolled out in Bermuda over the past year. Westgate offers victim empathy courses as well as the Sycamore Tree Project, which pairs prisoners with unrelated victims of crime to provide inmates with insight into the effects of their crimes.

Mr Furbert added: “If inmates are willing to sit down with their victims or the people they have affected, then that person should try and sit down with the inmate. It benefits both parties. People wrongly think that inmates who take part in this programme receive a reward or a reduction in sentence — that is not correct.

“For him to know there is someone on the outside willing to help him and listen to him has to be a positive thing.”

Ms Aidoo explained that the restorative justice and conferencing sessions were an entirely voluntary programme.

“If an inmate expresses an interest in taking part in these conferencing sessions, we put through a referral to the police and the police make contact with the victim of the person affected, and we take it from there,” she said.

“This first conferencing session went very well. The inmate said he had hoped to meet with more people and said he would be prepared to do it again.

“The response we have had so far in the community has been pretty positive.

“Of the four cases we have looked at, only one victim has declined and we hope that we will get to a stage where victims may even approach us.”

Heartfelt apology: Clarence Ross Furbert says the prisoner apologised and was extremely remorseful for his actions. The meetings between inmates and those affected by their crimes are part of the restorative justice programme at Westgate Correctional Facility (Photograph by Simon Jones)
<p>Survey results</p>

A survey was conducted at the Cathedral Hall after a Department of Corrections presentation on restorative justice in November. The results showed that:

• 92 per cent believed that victims should have the right to meet an offender and tell them the impact of the crime;

• 57 per cent said that if they were a victim of crime and an offender pleaded guilty, they would want to meet the offender;

• 95 per cent agreed that offenders needed to see the real impact of their crimes and the faces of the people they had harmed;

• 65 per cent agreed that restorative justice was suitable for all types of crime;

• 57 per cent disagreed that offenders taking part in restorative justice programmes should receive lighter sentences.

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Published December 29, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 29, 2015 at 1:05 am)

Prisoner meets man affected by his gun crime

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