Victim Liaison Conference

Victim Liaison Conference
Mediation Support -Restorative Technology Ltd presentation followed this one on 15th July 2011

Fuller review of safespace

Review of “SafeSpace – a space to talk about a crime that affected you”

This final report to NESTA is on a project initially called Common Ground (as at the start of the “Jailbrake” Social Innovation Camp, 2010, became SafeGround by the end of that weekend & was put into use on place in Devon Youth Offending Team as SafeSpace

Table of Contents
1) What Safe Space is
2) Background / scene setting
3) An assessment of the challenge that the SafeSpace team was trying to address 
4) How the project developed to meet the challenge. 
5) Early evidence of the impact Safe Space has had 
6) A summary of the key lessons that have come out of the experience 
7) Appendix 

1) What Safe Space is;

In a leaflet prepared by the pilot site Youth Offending Team (YOT) “Safe Space” is described as follows:

Safe Space is a simple website that assists those involved in and those affected by crimes have a conversation. It allows asking questions and answering them in a secure environment.

People can choose to write text or to record a video message. A professional practitioner is there to help you use the site, and to check that messages are appropriate before they are shown to others.

Often restorative justice is done in face-to-face meetings. Safe Space is not meant to replace such meetings. It can be used before or after directly meeting, or in cases where such meetings are not possible.”

Safe Space is a website that was built by Herd Communications using Drupal technology. Once a YOT Officer has created a record (or case eg criminal damage on a particular date), they can enable both “the victim” and “the offender” to have login details which enables the posting of messages (video & text) for the other. No message is accessible to the other until it has been approved by the YOT officer. The YOT officer may choose to send messages to either “victim” or “offender” eg to prompt the opening of messaging or to advise some variation to the initial message that a victim or an offender might be intending to send.

2) Background / scene setting;

In March 2010 a weekend called “Jailbrake” was arranged by the “Social Innovation Camp” with the intention of generating the best web-based and/or mobile-based tools to aid the reduction of youth offending and youth custody. A presentation of each team's idea on the Sunday afternoon was to be judged by a panel who had come from: The Youth Justice Board, the Police Improvement Agency, the Prison Reform Trust & Foyer Housing Federation. The team that was working on the RJ app was initially called “Common Ground”; which was changed on the Sunday to “Safe Ground” and subsequently changed in consultation with the Devon Youth Offending Team partner to “Safe Space”. One of the factors seen to have contributed to the “Safe Ground” team winning the first prize was that we had consulted with a middle manager in the would-be pilot site who had made clear that video messaging in particular would provide a communication to victims that had more value and trustworthiness than a simple letter of apology.

The 2010 (Jailbrake) Social Innovation Camp presentation is on YouTube:


Within the initial presentation it was made clear that a longer-term aspiration of the project besides providing a new confidential channel (& choice) of communication between victims and offenders was that these participants also be asked if they were also willing to talk to camera about their journey through “SafeSpace” such that would be users of the service would be able to learn from previous users what they had gone through in terms of the aftermath of the crime and the process of trying to put right some of the harm done. By having these voices (of victims and offenders) come through the new user of “SafeSpace” would be more widely informed about the experience of participation in restorative justice than by the account that is provided by a professional in the field, and informed by people living through, in some way, similar experiences.,

The “benefits from mediated/facilitated victim-offender communication” are described in the book “40 Cases: Restorative Justice and Victim-Offender Mediation”(Crosland & Liebmann, 2003) in terms of benefits for victims, offenders, courts and communities, with the benefits for the first two groups as follows:

Victims have the opportunity to:
  • Learn about the offender and put a face to the crime
  • Ask questions of the offender
  • Express their feelings and needs after the crime
  • Receive an apology and/or appropriate reparation
  • Educate offenders about the effects of their offences
  • Sort out any existing conflict
  • Be part of the criminal justice process
  • Put the crime behind them

Offenders have the opportunity to:
  • Own the responsibility for their crime
  • Find out the effect of their crime
  • Apologise and/or offer appropriate reparation
  • Reassess their future behaviour in the light of this knowledge”

3) An assessment of the challenge that the SafeSpace team was trying to address;

In the initial evaluation plan, the criteria for success of SafeSpace were set in terms of an increased take-up of restorative justice and an increase in victim and offender satisfaction with the process. These aims were set on a presumption that bringing SafeSpace into the way of working by the YOT staff would be less problematic than it proved to be. Given the difficulties in establishing SafeSpace it would be more apt to describe the challenge as the introduction of a new way of working which involved a web-site and recorded videos.

4) How the project developed to meet the challenge.

First we needed to establish with a range of the would-be staff users of the software that the value of the idea was shared. We raised funding from a benefactor and commissioned Herd Communications to develop the SafeSpace functionality.

A near-complete pilot version of SafeSpace was brought to a May 2010 SafeSpace awareness/training day for the pilot site, involving 7 members of staff, including a visit from a senior manager who wanted to check the protocols around the security and location of the data storage. 4 members of staff who were presumed to be would be users of the website were there and completed feedback forms at the end of the session. One of the key questions was:

If SafeSpace is made available to you in a form similar to that presented today, would you want to use it in your own practice? Why would you want to use it or choose not to?”

  1. Yes, fits neatly into the restorative continuum [Meaning that it usefully widens the range of options for ways in which people can participate in restorative justice]
  2. Yes, could be used in a variety of ways. Also mediation, also offending behaviour, also panels for referral orders.
  3. Yes, could polish the look of it, but I know that's coming. I see this as a great tool to increase the direct communication between those affected.
  4. Yes, Many victims of crime want to impact personally into RJ processes but do not want to be in the same room as the offender.

Further development of SafeSpace took place, with two developments in video-messaging in particular. An embedded tool was available on a monthly subscription to be installed within SafeSpace which enabled the recording of videos via web-cam. The alternative system was to record the videos outside of the SafeSpace site and then use an 'upload' function. The disadvantage of the first system was that messaging was limited to three minutes. When videos were recorded elsewhere they usually were recorded on equipment with such a high resolution that they took perhaps 10 times as long as the length of the recording to upload. The data capacity of the system was increased to allow for films recorded eg on an iPhone, though this still made the maximum length per video-upload about 6 minutes.

By September 2010 the pilot site had declared themselves ready to start using SafeSpace with the user manuals provided and the Devon YOT staff subsequently prepared leaflets promoting the SafeSpace opportunity for the victim/offender level of user. An August site visit had agreed the way in which there would be monitoring of what influenced the staff in offering SafeSpace. The arrangement was to add data fields to their usual case record information system; these fields listing whether SafeSpace was offered to offenders, whether they accepted it; and reasons for turning it down. However, when we later came to review this data we found that it had not been completed.

In the months following the broadly enthusiastic willingness to incorporate SafeSpace into the modes of communication offered to victims and offenders, a picture emerged of the Youth Offending Team's capacity to widen it's Restorative Justice delivery being strained by a number of factors:
  • reduced staffing and much turbulence relating to cuts
  • police not passing on victim contact details in a timely way; leading to a backlog of more than six weeks in being able to offer a service at all.

Estimates of how many cases would go through SafeSpace in Devon were revised downwards and within the Restorative Technology Ltd team (the company having been set up to administer the project) there was tension over whether building a strong enough working relationship with an alternative pilot site was viable/ advisable. The choice was made to leave SafeSpace with Devon alone and wait for the right kind of cases to emerge for which it would actually be used. Hopes were raised more than once that a Devon worker was working with someone (victim/offender) interested enough to communicate in the ways that SafeSpace provided; however confidence by the staff in their ability to use the technology smoothly wavered. In one instance, a staff member decided that they would be better recording a video with a pocket-camera and taking it to the other person to show it to them. The general wish of the staff to be with the victim/offender about to send a message in some form to the other person did not bode well for the potential (& contentious) cost-saving of SafeSpace in enabling some communication to be generated without the presence of the YOT worker and simply moderated by them from their place of work.

Other ideas were bubbling-up in terms of how the potential benefits of video-messaging could be achieved without the SafeSpace website being used. The most ambitious idea, amidst a culture of iPhone apps, was to wonder if an iPhone app format -and 3 key staff with iPhones- would make the use of video-messaging more straightforward. The cut-price idea was to drop SafeSpace in favour of using functionality on YouTube that was about uploading 'private' videos -only viewable by those authorised by email; though this was seen as a public relations non-starter; the confidence of the victims in a special secure and private place being key; the case management structure of the bespoke software also being a principle to be upheld.

Eventually, a review was set up. During this review Staff member B said
Well. I've been promoting it as a product and I realize now that was wrong. Rather than saying 'What would you like to happen now?' & 'This is how we can use this product to achieve that for you', it's been kind of like, 'Would you like this product?'”
A May 2011 training was put in place. This training session involved using computers with some glitches and despite the training session being videod, it remains unknown what led to a film which was thought to have been uploaded just before lunchtime not being available on SafeSpace in the expected case record on return from lunch.

Staff continued to speak of the value of video-messaging, whether the user chose to show their face or not. One of the YOT workers had used film in one communication between victim and offender to show the extent of injuries sustained. The view was later expressed that video-messaging offers a learning and reflection opportunity that is so very different from people meeting and talking; by having someone prepare a filmed message and then watching it back with them before sending it, a special means of reflecting on how you come across is provided, which enables much learning for young offenders in particular.

There was consensus on the value of encouraging people to imagine that the other person was there and to sometimes say, “If I had a video camera here, what would you want to say to them?” and a story was shared of a victim saying “I wish you'd recorded that to let them know directly how I am after what they did”.

At a subsequent presentation to a meeting of Victim Liaison Officers from across London, one benefit of the technology was that it provides a means by which anonymously (if off-camera) a party to an offence (victim, offender, other stakeholder) might still participate in a form of communication with the other.

This anonymity has been one of the reasons that the technology has been copied into a new website called,commissioned from the same software developer. This website has similar (slightly enhanced) functionality to SafeSpace and has been conceived to be moderated centrally by just one user in consultation with staff working in the Criminal Justice System, removing the requirement for them to learn how to operate the site. The People's Justice website was set up initially to anonymously enable those who were on Hastings Pier on 5th October 2010 (when there was a major fire) to communicate with the wider community about their actions. However, with two arrests and no prosecutions, nor (despite a request) immunity from prosecution being granted for those who choose to participate in mediation processes, none of these individuals has asked to use the website for such communication yet...

5) Early evidence of the impact Safe Space has had

It will be apparent from this report that without videos and text messages having been transmitted between actual victims and offenders, it is not possible to provide evidence of the impact of SafeSpace.

6) A summary of the key lessons that have come out of the experience

In March 2012 the following summary/opinion was circulated by SafeSpace project management to a number of people involved in SafeSpace:
What undermined the potential success of a prize-winning idea:
  1. Low confidence by the pilot site's staff in the technology being straightforward enough & working well.
  2. Low levels of creativity in its use & an insufficiently shared vision by pilot site staff to prioritise its use above competing demands on the time of those staff.
  3. A deficit either of active promotion by pilot site staff to users of the benefits or of the agreed record keeping about to whom it was being offered to & what their response was.
  4. Unwillingness by the staff to change working practices so that those victims and offenders wanting to communicate are not necessarily accompanied in each stage of this communication by the physical presence of a mediator/ restorative justice practitioner.
  5. A user group (victims and offenders) with a generally low level of commitment to communication with the related victim(s)/offender(s) for “their crime”.
  6. A Restorative Technology Limited “Team” without the strength, focus, flexibility & resources to adjust well to the above factors.”

One reply was received in relation to this assessment; coming from one of the three key operational staff in the pilot site:

I do not think the product implementation project was well planned or communicated. Staff using it had so many early technical difficulties which were not swiftly sorted that buy in was difficult and staff had no confidence in the product. The one training session we had was fraught with technical failure so at no point did staff have access to proper training with a working product.
The product was clumsy and time consuming to set up and use.
Despite SafeSpace being routinely offered and a leaflet developed by staff and sent to many victims during the period there was little enthusiasm for it. I don't think this was due to lack of imagination by staff - our job is to offer a menu of options to engage not persuade people to engage. My personal belief is that most people did not want to communicate in this way any maybe they didn't want to have their personal email linked to the incident?*”

*For clarity, at no point did SafeSpace involve email addresses being known to the other party to an offence; notifications that you had a message awaiting you on SafeSpace would come by email and for some to receive reminders of the offence through this channel was thought to be outside people's comfort zone.

Example email generated by SafeSpace:

Dear Frank1-Aggrieved,

You have been invited to give and/or receive messages in relation to crime
that the youth offending officer has called SafeSpace Case PierFire-5thOct10.

The SafeSpace website is provided with the intention that the messages sent from it are only to be seen by the youth offending team supervising officer and those to whom the messages are sent. If the person sending the message wants to allow others to see it they will say so.

You are free to continue to use this site on the understanding that you will not copy any information to others other than those who the message sender has approved to see the message.

Now you can ask a question or make a comment to:
- the supervising officer
- to anyone else affected by the crime who the supervising officer is in contact with
- to anyone else involved in the crime who the supervising officer is in contact with

Please go to
[URL] to begin to have your say and ask any questions.


SafeSpace team

7) Appendix

Available YouTube footage of SafeSpace development:

  1. The 2010 (Jailbrake) Social Innovation Camp presentation: &

  1. A “Pan-London Victim Liason” meeting presentation of the SafeSpace idea (July 2011) & response:
  1. Interview about another Reboot type technology that appears to have succeeded, with some reference to the SafeSpace experience:

Working through technical limitations of this piloit website in a training session; the concern being how the file size limitations for video influence restorative practice, or not: