Restorative justice risks being postcode lottery, say inspectors
By Richard Johnstone | 18 September 2012
The patchy use of ‘restorative justice’ programmes in England and Wales risks damaging the reputation of schemes, inspectors warned today.
Facing up to offending
, published by the inspectorates of constabulary, prisons, probation and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, found there were clear benefits to the schemes but these were not consistently available in all areas.
In particular, police forces and criminal justice agencies allowed different types of offences to be resolved with this approach.
Restorative justice has been in use since the 1980s but have come under renewed focus recently as part of the coalition’s government’s criminal justice reforms. Punishments require offenders to apologise to their victims, sometimes in addition to a custodial sentence. Examples range from the police using ‘informal resolutions’ to bring a ‘common sense’ conclusion to incidents on the street to formal meetings that bring victim and offender face to face, often after sentencing.
The inspectors found that both victims and offenders understood the benefits of programmes. They said the schemes could give victims satisfaction, as well as helping to reduce the frequency of re-offending.
But as their use increases, a ‘postcode lottery’ could develop, where an individual receives an informal resolution from police in one area, but would be formally charged for the same offence in another. This would ‘damage the reputation of restorative justice’, the inspectors said.
Based on these findings, the report makes 11 recommendations to introduce consistency.
These include calling on the National Offender Management Service to produce a national strategy for restorative justice, incorporating both offenders in custody and in the community. Also, the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers should jointly develop a consistent approach in the use of informal resolutions.
Speaking on behalf of the four inspectorates, Inspector of Constabulary Dru Sharpling said: ‘There is no doubt that when used correctly, restorative justice can work and has clear benefits, particularly for victims’.
However, she added: ‘More research may be required to assess the impact on reoffending. Our inspection found inconsistencies in how restorative justice is implemented across the criminal justice system.
‘It is vital that this is rectified to ensure its benefits and uses are understood by all. The priority in this is the experience of victims, and while we recognise ongoing work, there must be better engagement with the public to ensure a wide understanding of those measures available – a failure to do so could lead to perceptions of injustice.’
Responding to the report, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said that the government was ‘looking into creating a national standards framework for restorative justice’ to ensure greater consistency.