Restorative Justice (RJ) is a relatively young discipline in the Criminal Justice system, aiming to enable a safe communication between victims of crimes and offenders. Evidence suggests that restorative interventions have been successful in serious and complex offences, and now a significant amount of work is focusing on the use of restorative approaches to support young offenders to provide opportunity to make amends for their actions and to reduce reoffending rates.
The elegant definition of Restorative Justice
The main aim of restorative intervention is to provide an opportunity for the victims to explain the impact a crime has had on them and for the offenders, a chance to make amends. The participation is completely voluntary and usually goes at a pace to suit everyone involved. It is imperative to understand that the restorative process does not encourage participants to apologise – it gives them the opportunity to apologise but it’s not about forgiveness, it’s about communication. If there is no apology it doesn’t mean it’s not successful, the process is led by the participants needs and preferences, and the outcome they wish to achieve from participating in the process.
During restorative conference, trained practitioners who are facilitating these meetings have to follow strict guidelines and procedures to ensure participants’ safety. Their most important feature is to be impartial and support safe communication between all involved.
The golden five restorative questions which are asked to both participants at the restorative conference are:
- What happened?
- What were you thinking?
- How did you feel?
- Who was affected by what happened?
- What would you like to happen in the future?
For offenders – What needs to happen now to repair the harm?
These questions are the base of every RJ conference and the script is designed so that each participant is asked these questions and is given an opportunity to answer and respond to what has been said.
To sum up, RJ is a process which:
- Brings victims of crime and ASB together with the person or people that has caused them harm
- Encourages harmers to take responsibility for their actions
- Allows questions to be asked of each other and consequences explained
- Uses face to face or indirect communication
- Results in mutual agreements being made
The origin and philosophy of Restorative Justice
The origin of the use of restorative interventions to crime and conflict resolution is not an entirely new approach. Ancient cultures in the UK and worldwide have practised restorative approaches, some, for example in Asia and Africa ,as a basis upon which to build current legal systems (Elechi, 2006; Letha & Thilagaraj, 2013). When talking about use of restorative interventions and Europe and more specifically, in the UK – it was completely lost for a time to an emphasis on punitive retribution.
The original philosophy of Restorative Justice remains the same – it is focusing on healing, reparation for harm and accountability to those who have been offended against. It encompasses forgiveness, mercy and compassion.
Most ancient cultures, including Aboriginal, Maori and Anglo Saxon, practised this system making offenders face those who they have harmed. In England, during the reign of Henry the Second, the responsibility of harmer to make amends was shifted to seeking reparation for the State. The criminal justice system (CJS) reflected the fact that essentially King and Country had been harmed and punitive sanctions were enforced to reflect that.
Restorative Justice was officially introduced when New Zealand passed the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act in 1989 and marked its first formal use of family group conferencing as a response to Maori activists. In 2000, the Restorative Justice Trust launched a pilot project that facilitated restorative conferences in serious adult cases at Auckland’s Waitakere District Court. The training delivered by RJ Trust to CJS lawyers, and RJ Trust facilitators became an essential tool to successfully facilitate an RJ case.
A few years later, Australian Police Sergeant, Terry O’Connell was credited with the adaptation and development of ‘the script’, together with MacDonald and Moore (2001) who introduced a theory behind the RJ conference and the process of facilitating a case, drawing on the theories from Braithwaite (1989), Tomkins (1995) and Nathenson (1992). This led to the introduction of scripted restorative conference model which is now used by all RJ service providers worldwide. In 1989, Austrian juvenile justice allowed prosecutors to refer cases to independent RJ services who reported outcomes to prosecutors indicating whether the intervention was successful (Aertsen, 2004).
In the UK, reform from 1998 of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales which introduced Youth Offending Teams saw a significant increase of referrals involving your people. Similar changes were observed in Scotland, where the guidance from 2005 of ‘Restorative Justice Services in the Children’s Hearing System’ was introduced.
One of the first RJ approaches used in the UK was those introduced by Thames Valley Police where their initiative brought young offenders of theft offences to face store management to hear how their actions had affected others. As a result, Thames Valley Police extended their involvement with restorative approaches though work in schools, youth justice and in the handling of police complaints.
Outside of Criminal Justice System, Hertfordshire County Council trained their staff in a young person’s residential unit. The evaluation of that training in 2002 showed significant positive benefits for both the staff and the young people. Hertfordshire then extended the use of restorative interventions in their work in the looked after children system.
The success of restorative approaches led to a significant change in legislation in almost every piece concerning victim’s rights and offender’s management plan:
- Restorative Justice has become a part of the National Action Plan (Ministry of Justice, 2012) as a key element to reduce reoffending.
- Under the Victim’s Code of Practice (Ministry of Justice,2015) every victim now has a right to access Restorative Justice.
When Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were introduced in the UK in 2012, they were given a statutory responsibility to support victims of crime and to enable access to restorative justice programmes. Each PCC was given a choice with regard to how they would like to run RJ services in their area – some, like Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Yorkshire – decided to commission the service to external providers, such as Restorative Solutions or Remedi; others, like Essex and Gloucestershire decided to set up their own RJ services, working directly from PCC office.