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Restorative justice

September 19, 2012, 10:17 am

Restorative justice offers benefits to victims, offenders and communities, and take-up is increasing – but more consistency is needed.

Restorative justice is being used effectively in all areas of the criminal justice system – but patchy take-up and inconsistent application mean that not all victims, offenders and communities are able to access the evidenced benefits it offers, found a report published today by the Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates.

Restorative justice brings those who offend and victims into contact with each other. It aims:

  •  to help victims to recover from the impact of the crime;
  •  to enable those who offend understand the implications of his or her actions; and
  •  to provide an opportunity to make amends.

It can be used throughout the criminal justice system, from the police using ‘informal resolutions to bring a commonsense conclusion to incidents on the street (without resorting to judicial process), to formal ‘restorative conferencing (when a victim meets the offender face to face, sometimes in prison after the offender has been convicted). The benefits of this approach are well evidenced in previous
research, both as providing satisfaction to victims and reducing the frequency of re-offending; but more research is needed to assess the impact of informal resolutions following a marked increase in their use. The report published today, Facing Up To Offending: Use of restorative justice in the criminal justice system‟ looks at current use across a sample of police forces, probation trusts, youth
offending teams and prisons/young offender institutions.

The report found:

There are good examples of restorative justice being used across a range of settings, but the level of up-take varied across criminal justice agencies. While police records show that use of informal resolutions increased from 0.5% to 12% of all case disposals between 2008 and 2011, and restorative justice is well established in youth offending teams, take up in prisons/young offender institutions and probation trusts was less widespread. All agencies should use the good examples of ‘what works outlined in the report to inform their practice.

The benefits of using restorative justice are understood by victims, those who offend, practitioners and (with some reservations) the public. The inspectors spoke to victims, offenders, practitioners and a sample of the general public. Where victims had taken part in restorative justice meetings, there was high victim satisfaction, and practitioners across the criminal justice system recognised the benefits of using these methods. Those who offend who had taken part in restorative justice meetings, on the whole, reported a positive influence on their views on offending. Focus groups found that while the public were generally supportive of restorative justice – in particular in cases of young people who offend – there was less support for these measures with adult offenders. However, these benefits are not consistently available to all victims in all areas. The inspectorates found inconsistencies in the use of restorative justice, both between different criminal justice agencies and across geographical areas. For instance, different police forces allowed different offence types to be resolved with restorative approaches; probation trusts were at very different stages of embedding restorative justice in their work; and some residential staff in prisons did not have a clear understanding of how it worked. Those who offend and victims were also not given consistent advice by the police about the implications of having an informal resolution on their record. These inconsistencies and problems with terminology could damage the reputation of restorative justice, and lead to the perception of a postcode lottery (with, for instance, an individual in one area receiving an informal resolution, whereas in another he or she would be formally charged for the same offence). More could be done to involve victims and communities in the process. Keeping victims informed, empowered and up-to-date on the progress of their case is an essential element of ‘what works in restorative justice. However, the inspection and victim surveys showed this did not always happen.

Based on these findings, the report makes 11 recommendations for the criminal justice system, which aim to bring consistency to the use of restorative measures (while recognising the importance of local discretion).

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Dru Sharpling, said on behalf of the four inspectorates: “There is no doubt that when used correctly, restorative justice can work and has clear benefits, particularly for victims – indeed, its use is increasing. More research may be required to assess the impact on reoffending. Our inspection found inconsistencies in how restorative justice is implemented across the criminal justice system. It is vital that this is rectified to ensure its benefits and uses are understood by all. The priority in this is the experience of victims, and while we recognise ongoing work, there must be better engagement with the public to ensure a wide understanding of those measures available – a failure to do so could lead to perceptions of injustice.”

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