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As the Restorative Justice Council (RJC) sees Transforming Rehabilitation as creating an opportune time to strengthen restorative justice work, we look at the current landscape and the future of the intervention.  

The practice of restorative justice and how it is being implemented by those working in probation varies significantly from one area to the next. The RJC emphasises this in its recent report ‘Restorative Justice in Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) and the National Probation Service (NPS) - March 2015’. 

As an intervention, restorative justice is gathering significant pace. With NOMS playing an integral role, more pre-sentence restorative justice work in Magistrates’ Courts across the country is emerging.  

Implementing restorative justice at the National Probation Service

In Kent, the NPS has taken a multi-agency approach to restorative justice through its Criminal Justice Board. This involves probation, police, prisons, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the voluntary sector. Here, restorative justice is made available at every point in the criminal justice system; whenever the time is right for those involved. 

Focusing on victims of domestic burglary, assault and criminal damage, it is delivered through Magistrates’ Courts across the county post-conviction and pre-sentence. Trained facilitators and probation officers are able to identify suitable cases. Usually, a 2-4 week adjournment is made to assess both victim and offender for their suitability. Once they’ve been assessed, the court probation officer can defer sentencing for 3 months to allow for restorative justice to take place or propose an alternative for sentencing. 

The picture at Community Rehabilitation Companies 

For CRCs, restorative justice works in different ways depending on the locality. In its report, the RJC concludes that uptake by prolific offenders managed by CRCs is “generally limited and the need to revive partnership engagement with police and other community partners is a priority.”

However, there’s some great work already under way.

In South Yorkshire, for example, the CRC has delivered a range of restorative justice practices, from adult conferencing and monitoring to identifying victims that would benefit from the process. Local community justice panels that apply restorative justice to neighbourhood disputes have also been developed. 

At London CRC’s Restorative Justice Unit, trained facilitators meet with sentenced offenders as part of a 12-session programme. These sessions build up to restorative justice conferences and a final review of the offender’s progress. Having been rolled-out across London it is being heralded as a success, with up-take being high. 

The role of CRCs with restorative justice in prison 

The ‘Through the Gate’ resettlement model is seen by many as an opportune time to broaden the use of restorative justice in prison. With the inclusion of 12 month prisoners on release in scope for statutory supervision, the use of the intervention is more important than ever.

As we understand it, this now takes place in a number of custodial settings. For the practice to become embedded nationwide though, it still requires buy-in from governors, prisons officers and outside partners, including CRCs. 

Challenges to delivery

With so many partner agencies involved there will need to be clear lines of communication to avoid duplication. After all, the victim would not want to be approached by more than one agency. As the RJC quite rightly point out, “a lack of information sharing, expressions of interest in restorative justice at one stage may not be followed up later”. 

Is the solution a multi-agency hub?

The RJC suggests that a solution to avoid conflicting financial interests and miscommunication is the formation of multi-agency forums, or ‘hubs’. From the outset, the model requires ‘financial investment from CRCs, the NPS, PCCs and other interested parties’. 

In much the same way as in Kent, the RJC makes the point that such forums could prevent duplicate referrals, remove gaps in service, and provide specialist support to vulnerable victims.  

This approach would go beyond current funding provided by each area’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) though. It would require a significant increase in provision, and with that a need to train and possibly recruit additional probation officers specialising in restorative work. This is at a time when cutbacks are being made and CRCs are very much in the process of making huge operational changes. 

The emphasis in the Queen’s Speech on 27th May citing “measures will be brought forward to increase the rights of victims of crime” could see the restorative justice elements of the Victims’ Code transferred into legislation. Of course this is hypothesising, but it could result in all criminal justice agencies having responsibility for providing victims with advice on how to access restorative justice. This would ultimately lead to more widespread access to it as a tool. 

Supporting practitioners in delivering restorative justice

For now, we’re still a way off this although there’s been a concerted effort centrally to encourage the implementation across the UK. 

With support from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the RJC launched the Restorative Service Quality Mark (RSQM) in 2014. Every CRC, local NPS division or local provider of probation services have been advised to work towards obtaining the mark and many have already done so. 

Since then, there’s been a real emphasis on recruiting what the MoJ and the RJC call ‘restorative justice champions’. Initially the plan was for the RJC to recruit 30 ‘champions’ to contribute to debate and practice improvements. Now, there are over 50 individuals drawn from a range of backgrounds including probation, youth offending, early intervention, health, housing, police the prison service and many more. The aim is for those champions to highlight and share best practice examples.
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