The role of restorative justice within probation

Work with offenders looks at new Welsh research

A new study: Restorative Justice: enabling communication, repairing harm has just been published by the Interventions Alliance, part of the Seetec Group which currently runs three Community Rehabilitation Companies.

The study looks at the impact of 173 restorative justice interventions over three years in Wales.

Restorative justice (commonly known as RJ) gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offenders to explain the real impact of the crime – it empowers victims by giving them a voice. It also holds offenders to account for what they have done and helps them to take responsibility and make amends. Government research demonstrates that restorative justice provides an 85% victim satisfaction rate, and a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending.

Restorative justice is about victims and offenders communicating within a controlled environment to talk about the harm that has been caused and finding a way to repair that harm.

For offenders, the experience can be incredibly challenging as it confronts them with the personal impact of their crime. For victims, meeting the person who has harmed them can be a huge step in moving forward and recovering from the crime.

Restorative justice conferences, where a victim meets their offender, are led by a facilitator who supports and prepares the people taking part and makes sure that the process is safe. Sometimes, when a face to face meeting is not the best way forward, the facilitator will arrange for the victim and offender to communicate via letters, recorded interviews or video, usually known as indirect RJ.

For any kind of communication to take place, the offender must have admitted to the crime, and both victim and offender must be willing to participate.

Findings

The research found that people who choose to engage in Restorative Justice do so for a variety of reasons. For victims, these reasons appear to be associated with various questions that need answering in relation to the crime perpetrated against them. Without answers to these questions, they may feel stuck in a rut and struggle to move forward with their lives. They may also wish to express their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and dispositions in relation to the individual perpetrator of the offence. Some are driven in part by an expectation that the perpetrator should face-up to the consequences of their actions. For perpetrators of offences, the motivations to engage in RJ relate to a desire to demonstrate regret and remorse, perhaps to enable the victim in some small degree to ‘move-on’, to show the victim the ‘real’ person behind the offending, and finally, to continue their already initiated journey away from offending.

Staff engage in the RJ intervention as it offers them a sense of job satisfaction and fulfilment in their work role, feeling that they undertake a worthwhile task on a daily basis, especially in relation to the unique opportunity to work with victims.

The study found that the timing of any RJ intervention was extremely important to both parties. For victims, the most favourable point of engagement varied owing to the complexity of their personal situation and their experiences post offence and court hearing. Similarly, with perpetrators, researchers found that the most opportune moment for intervention is related to their readiness to participate, although a key issue is often whether they have matured to the point where they are ready to acknowledge their responsibility in having committed the crime.

The researchers recorded a wide range of outcomes and impacts from being involved in restorative interventions for both victims and perpetrators. They found that most victims are glad that they undertook the process, however emotionally draining it may be. They experience the opportunity to pose the questions that trouble them whilst also enabling a perpetrator to accept some degree of responsibility for their actions through some form of written or in-person discourse. For perpetrators of crime, although some initial level of acceptance of responsibility is a pre-requisite, this acceptance develops as the intervention progresses, with corresponding insight into the consequences of their behaviour. Both parties require support from RJ facilitators to progress through the intervention.

The study found that RJ interventions appear to be effective across a range of different offence types.

Although not everyone was satisfied with their intervention, most victims and perpetrators in this study were positive about the RJ process and said they would recommend it to others in similar positions.