Restorative Justice (RJ) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders and the involved community, as opposed to simply punishing the offender. RJ is victim focussed and lets victims tell offenders the real impact of their crime.
RJ is shown to improve victim satisfaction and reduce re-offending - this fits under the priority of supporting victims, witnesses and reducing reoffending and directly with two of the PCC’s commitments to expand both:
- Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) across Dorset (No. 11)
- Restorative Justice meetings between victims who request a meeting with convicted offenders in prison (No. 14)
How does it work?
RJ holds offenders, either young people or adults, directly accountable to their victims and can bring them together in a facilitated meeting. RJ can be an alternative way of dealing with a crime and/or anti-social behaviour rather than it going through a more formal criminal justice system route or alongside the system, if a more serious crime.
The principles of RJ can be applied to many situations including, but not exclusively to education, communities and neighbourhoods, the criminal justice system, families, the workplace, equalities and health & well-being.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC formally ACPO) has produced the following four minimum standards which all have to be met for RJ to take place:
- The offender must take responsibility;
- Involvement of the victim, community or other affected party;
- A structured process that establishes what has occurred and what the impact has been; and
- An outcome that seeks to put right the harm that has been caused or an outcome that makes other reparation that may not be directly related to the original case - for example rather than repairing damage done directly to the victim’s home, repairing damage done to a public building in the community.
Who is involved?
Usually the participants in RJ are the victim(s) and offender(s) of the crime or anti-social behaviour and trained RJ facilitator(s). Sometimes it is appropriate that the victim is represented and/or supported by a family member or member(s) of the local community.
What can I expect as a victim of crime?
In October 2013 the Government, through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), published the ‘Code of Practice for Victims of Crime’. This highlighted that victims of adult offenders are entitled to receive information about Restorative Justice and how you can take part. If you are a victim of a young offender you are entitled to be offered the opportunity by the Combined Dorset Youth Offending Service to participate in voluntary RJ activities where appropriate and available.
What are the benefits for a victim of crime or anti-social behaviour?
RJ often improves victim satisfaction levels by them having a say in the way a crime or incident is dealt with. Victims are empowered and are able to suggest how the offender can acknowledge the impact of their actions and make up for some of the harm caused by their behaviour.
The process enables a victim to understand why they were victimised and offers ‘closure’ assisting them to ‘move on’ from the experience.
Evaluation found that 85% of victims that participated in the conferencing method of RJ were satisfied with the experience. The Government (MoJ) fully accepts these findings and so supports a face to face meeting being the aim of RJ intervention, but with a suitable alternative being used where the meeting is against the wishes of the participants or is not safe.
What are the benefits for a local community?
Ensuring that the wider community has a direct voice to explain the impact behaviour has had on the local area, and to help inform the outcome agreement.
Without formal criminal justice sanctions, there may continue to be repeat incidents of the same issue if victims and offenders have not resolved their differences. An RJ process at an early stage can prevent minor incidents becoming a major event.
What are the benefits for an offender of crime or perpetrator of anti-social behaviour?
Offenders are more likely to appreciate the effect of their behaviour in a face to face conference with a victim (or other stakeholders) with the likelihood of the victim offering honest and emotional comment.
The evaluation mentioned above also estimated a 14% reduction in re-offending. Using RJ for low-level crime and/or anti-social behaviour means that first time offenders are not criminalised for a one-off event, which if going through the formal criminal justice system would result in a criminal record that could affect their ability for future employment.
RJ has been shown to provide value for money for the criminal justice system as a whole, it saves £9 on criminal justice processes for every £1 spent on RJ (Restorative Justice Council, 2011).
Some outcomes of an RJ process can include a commitment by the offender to access support to resolve any underlying factors leading to offending behaviour such as alcohol misuse.
What were the RJ services in Dorset?
Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) have been available in parts of Dorset (West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland, and Poole) for several years. They dealt with low-level crime and/or anti-social behaviour, and involved the victim(s), adult offender(s) or perpetrator(s) and any wider involved community, to recognise the harm that had happened and reach any agreement to try to repair that harm.
The effectiveness of these NJPs have been measured in Dorset.
The PCC commissioned Dr Max Lowenstein, Bournemouth University to carry out an independent evaluation on the effectiveness of the pilot Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) delivering Restorative Justice (RJ) in West Dorset. The data was gathered from interviews with all types of participants. The participants were victims/their representatives, offenders/their representatives, RJ facilitators and the NJP Coordinator. The final report explained the NJP processes, impacts and the reasons for the high satisfaction and positive engagement rate, which had been reported previously in West Dorset following exit survey results.
The research aims were to:
- Understand what expectations matter most to the NJP participants.
- Understand how and why RJ via NJP is applied through the extent of satisfaction with the process.
- Inform NJP best practice by exploring the long term impacts of NJP agreements.
The evaluation identified the importance of:
- Preparation, experience and training of facilitators
- Increase in referrals
- Monitoring of long term impact of NJP outcomes
- Improving evaluation of NJPs
- Expanding availability of NJPs including geographic and levels/types of crime
As a result the evaluation forms (questionnaires), which are given to all participants in the NJPs, have been revised. This improves the monitoring of their effectiveness and enables improvements to be made if identified in the questionnaires.
For a more detailed summary of the evaluation and a copy of the full report please click here
How do I access Restorative Justice services in Dorset now?
- The OPCC has worked with a range of agencies and organisations across Dorset to produce a strategy and action plan to deliver RJ across Dorset in a range of methods.
- The use of pre-sentence RJ processes is also under development with the courts service and other agencies in Dorset.
- The OPCC has commissioned the Borough of Poole, through the Safer Poole Team, to deliver the Restorative Dorset Service for offences committed by adults (18 years old and above). This has been in operation since September 2017 and provides both Restorative Mediation for anti-social behaviour cases and RJ for any crime type, including post-conviction, subject to a robust risk assessment process – for details and to access this service please see here
To access RJ for crimes committed by children and young people (under 18 years old) please see the ‘Youth Out of Court Disposals’ section under the three main SSCT focus areas here. The Safe Schools and Communities Team (SSCT) will refer more serious crimes onto the Combined Dorset Youth Offending Service (YOS), who can also offer RJ to victims.