Belfast Telegraph

Alice helps to restore our faith in justice

by Laura Hyland

A professional, committed, witty, family woman, Alice Chapman has spent her life repaying society for what she happily admits was an idyllic childhood — whether that means supporting battered women, guiding young offenders through restorative justice or just giving high-achieving students a steer on the issues of the day.

Alice grew up in Gilnahirk, Castlereagh, where she attended Gilnahirk Primary School. She reminisces: “It was an idyllic childhood. The main luxury was to go up the Rocky Road and play for hours. Unlike today, it was completely safe then for children to go out and play with their friends for hours on end.”

Alice attended Bloomfield Collegiate and Methodist College and later studied Social Sciences at Queen's University, before taking a Masters in Social Work. She refers to herself as being from the “lucky generation” as she was entitled to free university education with the added bonus of a grant.

Alice, who lives with her husband Tim, two daughters, son and two dogs, explains that she has always encouraged her children to move away and see the world. “There are more choices available to young people now, however there are also more constraints.”

Her daughters have both attended university so Alice is fully aware of the challenges which face today’s graduates.

One of her daughters is studying a PhD in Spanish and Human Rights and she also enjoys translating Spanish plays. Her second daughter works long hours as a nurse and her son lives in South Africa where he works as a travel agent. Alice's husband is a lecturer in Restorative Justice at the University of Ulster.

“There have been some very interesting topics discussed at the family dinner table,” she laughs.

When asked how this scion of justice disciplined her own children when they were younger she laughed and said: “You just have to let things go and let everybody reflect a bit.”

It appears Alice has continued this approach in her dealing with young offenders in the Youth Justice Agency and emphasises the importance of accountability for offenders.

Following her studies, Alice became a probation officer which occupied her for more than 25 years. In this role she worked in the field of justice and safety unit, working with people affected by crime.

Now director of the Youth Justice Agency, Alice brings together young offenders with their victims.

This process is unique in Europe as it is the only system involving victims and offenders coming together. Academics and politicians from Norway and Great Britain have contacted her about the special technique. New Zealand is the first country which offers it to adult offenders as well as young people.

The process entails young offenders sitting down with their victim in a carefully controlled setting. Alice believes that this offers the offender an insight into how their actions have affected the victim. The victim is encouraged to draw up a plan of action for the offender such as getting their qualifications and doing community or voluntary work.

Alice jokingly remarks: “Northern Ireland for a change is regarded as an international leader.”

She continues: “The Troubles is what kick-started this approach so it is a good fit culturally.”

Since the creation of the Youth Justice Agency in 2003, Alice has been the Director of the Youth Conference Service. This focuses on establishing the framework for the introduction of restorative youth justice and overseeing its successful roll-out across Northern Ireland.

Being a mother, Alice can empathise with parents when they are contacted by her agency about their child's offences: “No parent likes to think their child is in the pits. It makes a real difference to a parent to sit down and hear about what their child is actually doing and to talk to their child.”

Not only involved with the Youth Justice Agency, Alice received an OBE in the New Year’s Honours for her dedicated work as a Soroptimist. Alice is the Belfast president of Soroptimist International, a worldwide |organisation dedicated to women.

The organisation is “committed to a world where women and girls together achieve their individual and collective potential while realising their aspirations and having an equal voice in creating strong, peaceful communities worldwide”.

The service which Alice provides to communities in Belfast is indeed admirable. She has been involved in distributing talking newspapers to the Royal National Institute of Blind People and last year she raised money for a talking book.

Alice fully supports Women's Aid and is heavily involved in their Christmas Appeal. She provides shoe boxes filled with gifts for women and their children while they are staying in hostels.

Fundraising lunches and other activities all contribute to making this possible.

Soroptimist International held their 28th Annual Youth Award Public Speaking competition on Saturday, March 5 at Lurgan College.

The competition consisted of years

12 and 13 pupils from across Northern Ireland. The topics which were chosen by the panel included: ‘Beauty — is it more than skin deep?’, ‘Trafficking — a worldwide crime’ and ‘Facebook or 'face to face?'.

For the first year, young men were invited to participate. Alice's face lit up as she remarked: “This year was very interesting, as usual the men dominated but the women won. The boys are full of the jokes and the girls have more substance.”

Alice will attend two award ceremonies this month as she receives both the Butler Trust award and the OBE at Buckingham Palace.

The Butler Trust award, normally awarded to prison officers, aims to celebrate, support and share good practice in UK correctional settings.

When talking about her hopes for the future Alice comments: “ I strongly believe the Youth Conference Agency will go from strength to strength.

“There is no reason why it should not be extended to adults and even adult prisoners. Many victims want to know why the offender carried out the crime and this helps the healing process for victims,” she says.

This Tuesday, March 8, was International Women's Day, a date very close to Alice's heart. She explains that she has been heavily involved in: “Lobbying issues in relation to economic and social welfare.”

Alice remains confident that her programme with the Youth Justice Agency works effectively as it provides victims and offenders with the best possible solution for reconciliation.

Her excitement that Northern Ireland is at the forefront of this innovative approach is infectious.

A wife, mother, president for Soroptimist's Belfast and director for the Youth Justice Agency, Alice Chapman is an inspiration for young women in Northern Ireland and she still maintains that there is more to be achieved.

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