"Justice" in the traditional punitive sense, does not always fulfill a victim's view of what "justice" means. In the United Kingdom, the criminal justice system is based on retributive justice and this idea of working out the harm caused by the offender, and then sentencing him/her the with appropriate level of "harm" back does not always meet the needs of the victim, or the offender, like restorative justice can. If one contrasts the terminology of criminal justice: punishment, zero tolerance, criminal personality, with that of restorative justice (RJ): empowerment, social justice. healing; the difference is clear.
As a set of values, restorative justice offers great promise in regard to promoting healing and strengthening community bonds by addressing the criminal harm done to victims and communities. The context of personal negotiation allows flexible adjustment of agreements to the parties' needs and capacities and a greater level of creativity than court processes.
Restorative justice and young offenders
The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 set up the Youth Justice Board to overseework with young offenders and introduced Youth Offending Teams (hereinafter YOT). Targets were set to ensure victims participated in restorative processes in 25% of retevant cases and 85% of these victims were to be satisfied. There are a number of different types of sentencing disposals that all allow for a restorative element. The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act of 1999 introduced a new primary sentencing disposal - the Referral Order - for 10-17-year-olds pleading guilty and convicted for the first time by the courts. The disposal involves referring the young offender to a Youth Offender Panel (hereinafter YOP). The work ofYOPs is governed by the principles "underlying the concept of restorative justice": defined as "restoration, reintegration and responsibility" (Home Office 1997). A Referral Order is compulsory in all cases where the juvenile is convicted for the first time and pleads guilty. Courts may make referral orders for a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 12 months depending on the seriousness of the crime (as determined by the court) and must specify the length for which any contract will have effect. YOPs consist of one YOT member and (at least) two community panel members. The purpose of their inclusion is to engage local communities in dealing with young offenders. Other people may be invited to attend panel meetings (any participation is strictly voluntary).
Those who may attend include:
- the victim or a representative of the community at large;
- a victim supporter;
- a supporter of the young person;
- anyone else that the panel considers to be capable of having a "good influence" on the offender;
- signers and interpreters if required;
- surrogate victims.
The aim of the initial panel is to devise a "contract" and, where the victim chooses to attend, for them to meet and talk about the offence with the offender. If no agreement can be reached or the offender refuses to sign the contract, he/she will be referred back to court for re-sentencing. The YOT is responsible for monitoring the contract and is expected to keep a record of the offender's compliance with the contract.
The panel is expected to hold at least one interim meeting with the offender to discuss progress - the first such review is recommended to be held after one month followed by at least one progress meeting for each three months of the contract.
Additional panel meetings will be held if the offender wishes to vary the terms of the contract or to seek to revoke the order, or where the YOT feels that the offender has breached the terms of the contract. Once the period of the referral order is successfully completed the conviction will be considered "spent" for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974, so they do not have a criminal record.
Does it work?
- Offenders are part of the process - part of the negotiation (not directed).
- Victims feel heard.
- Any unresolved difficulties between them can be settled - e.g. how to behave should they meet one another in the street.
- Deal with victims' emotional as much as material needs.
- Some victims experience satisfaction from influencing the offender away from crime-transforming a negatíve experience into something positive.
- Offenders more affected by the experience than by formai prosecution and punishment
- Positive motivation to reform and a feeling that society is ready to offer re-acceptance.
- Short time scale for victim contact between sentence and first panel.
- Resources for victim contact.
- Is it truly restorative if offender has no say in whether a victim attends?
- Training for panel members is short (7 days) with 1 session on RJ - is this adequate? (Practitioners have 4 days on RJ.)
- Panel members are not involved in the preparation of each party for the panel - relying on our assessments/missing vital rapport for building opportunities.
Participant Satisfaction; For both victims and offenders satisfaction is consistently high ranging from 73-90%. Fairness in mediation and conferencing processes is also consistently high - ranging from 75- 95% lUmbreit, Coates and Vos 2006).
Re-offending: The Restorative Justice Centre has reported on 41 studies where RJ has been proven to reduce re-offending. One meta- analysis looked at 14 studies with over 9.000 juveniles and indicated that participation in VOM had lead to 26% reduction in re-offending.
When the VOM youth did re-offend, they often committed less serious offences (Nugent, Williams and Umbreit 2003). Statistics from the Ministry of Defence on juvenile re-offending rates for 2006 cohort indicated that over a one year period re-offending rates were 43% for Referral Orders compared to 55% for Fines; 62% for Action Plan Orders, 77% for Custody.
4.7.4 Prospects for the future
Restorative justice continues to be at the heart of the youth justice agenda, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that every team is working to their best ability to achieve the targets set out. Revised National Standards are due to be published and implemented during 2009, with an increased focus of YOT resources directed at the highest re-offending risk cases called the Scaled Approach. This will also require that YOTs have a range of restorative processes for victim participation with the aim of putting right the harm which victims and the community have experienced.
Guidance called the Key Elements of Effective Practice have been revised and advise that practitioners prioritise face-to-face restorative justice cases where there are direct, personal victims and the victim and offender are both willing. In preparation for restorative justice processes, victims and offenders should have the opportunity to meet with a restorative justice worker and restorative justice processes should be arranged in consultation with victims, taking into account their convenience, their views and their experiences. Satisfaction of victims should be regularly monitored.
In the United Kingdom, restorative justice is used in all types of crime across the youth justice system, from pre court proceedings and diversion from prosecution through to the more serious offences for which there is a sentence of imprisonment.
Source: "European Best Practices of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Procedure" Conference Publication, based on the conference named "European Best Practices of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Procedure".