In our latest guest blog, Jon Collins, CEO of Restorative Justice Council, talks about a new resource they've launched to help practitioners explain the benefits of restorative justice to police.
Most, if not all, of the readers of this blog won’t need to be told what restorative justice is. Over recent years it has gone from being a niche interest, available in parts of the youth justice system and scattered haphazardly across the adult landscape, to being a mainstream issue. It is also an issue on which penal reformers, academics, practitioners, politicians and the public broadly agree - restorative justice is a good thing.
There is also, all too unusually in the justice sector, the evidence to back this up. Government research demonstrates that 85% of victims who meet an offender face to face are satisfied with the outcome, while 80% report that they would recommend restorative justice to other victims of crime. It also helps offenders, delivering a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending.
Given this, it’s unsurprising that there have been significant steps in the last couple of years to make restorative justice available to more people affected by crime. Legislation has been passed to enable pre-sentence restorative justice to take place, funding has been devolved to Police and Crime Commissioners and Youth Offending Teams to make restorative justice happen in their areas, and Neighbourhood Justice Panels have been introduced to deploy a restorative approach to dealing with local disputes. Community Rehabilitation Companies, aware of its impact on reoffending and looking to achieve payment by results targets, are already talking to restorative justice providers.
All of this is welcome. Yet despite these steps forward the vast majority of offenders and of victims never access restorative justice. Offenders cycle through the system without access to something that could really help them to change. There is still a huge amount to be done if we at the Restorative Justice Council are going to achieve our vision of a restorative society where everyone has access to safe, high quality restorative justice wherever and whenever it is needed.
One area where there is still more work to be done is the use of restorative justice by the police. While restorative justice can be used in response to any crime and alongside conventional criminal justice sanctions, one important way the police can use it is in response to lower level crimes and in place of a caution or conviction.
This can have real benefits. A restorative process not only saves time and money but can also be effective in getting to the heart of a problem. For example, one vulnerable victim made 180 calls to police over nine months but one restorative justice meeting resolved the issue. It also has a broader impact. Home Office research found that face to face restorative justice meetings facilitated by a police officer improve perceptions of the criminal justice system.
Despite this, however, there is still much to do to ensure restorative justice is made widely available. The use of restorative justice within police forces is developing at varying speeds across different forces which can present a confusing picture. In some forces restorative provision is patchy, whereas in other areas it is more developed, with the police involved in multi-agency partnerships with other statutory and voluntary sector organisations to deliver restorative justice.
Not only is provision patchy, it also varies in quality. Many police officers do excellent restorative work but there have been cases, inevitably, where restorative justice has been used inappropriately. Recent research looking at the use of restorative justice by one police force in response to hate crime found evidence of some poor practice. Too many police officers still do not have a proper understanding of what restorative justice involves and use it as a shortcut to a clear up.
To try and address this, and bolster the police service’s understanding of restorative justice generally, the Restorative Justice Council has produced an information pack providing information for all forces, from those hoping to introduce restorative justice to those who have extensive experience and wish to ensure that their use of restorative justice is carried out to the highest standards.
This is a resource that any organisation working with the police can use to help explain what restorative justice has to offer. But it is just the start. Restorative justice can repair the harm caused by crime, empower victims by giving them a voice, encourage offenders to change, and ultimately reduce crime. Police forces need to be encouraged and supported to use it in their day to day response to crime. So how can we do this? And what can you or your organisation do to help make this vision a reality?
The Restorative Justice Council’s information pack on restorative justice and policing is available at www.restorativejustice.org.uk/policeinfopack.