We need to put restorative justice centre stage if its ever going to work
There is huge goodwill towards restorative justice, but unfortunately goodwill has not really got it off the ground in England and Wales. The Institute for Criminal Policy Research recently published an evaluation of a RJ training programme for NOMS staff in prisons and probation. The response to the training was good, but the number of actual restorative conferences resulting from the training was tiny – of the 2643 cases processed through the scheme, only 6% resulted in a conference which the victim and perpetrator attended. No RJ scheme has a fantastic success rate in getting full conferences to fruition, but this is a particularly low rate given the huge investment in a well received training programme. In most cases the reason given was that victims did not want to participate. Victims are often reluctant to meet “their” offender but, where RJ takes off, a higher proportion of victims are persuaded that it might benefit them. Underlying this evaluation is the chaos and austerity measures facing probation and prisons at the time. RJ needs 100% commitment from management, and time on the part of staff for it to succeed. This evaluation suggests that, through no fault of NOMS, neither the right time, nor the right commitment, were there. I am a passionate believer in RJ, but think there is no point implementing it this way. For RJ to become embedded in NOMS, it has to be prioritised and, dare I say it, included in performance targets. In Northern Ireland, RJ practically is the youth justice system. It is the first response for children formally diverted from court and those sentenced in court, and the facilitators, who arrange conferences full time, have built up huge experience in how to bring victims to the table. I don’t think we have to do it like Northern Ireland, but I do think making RJ the default response eliminates the problem of how to give RJ centre stage, when all around in disarray.