This special edition of the Prison Service Journal, available here, looks at Restorative Justice (RJ) and in particular its use in prisons. It contains the latest research from the UK, New Zealand and Australia as well as an article from IARS Founder and Director, Dr Theo Gavrielides, an excerpt of which is included below.

The truth about restorative justice in prisons

By Dr Theo Gavrielides

Over the last decade, the debate on the use of restorative justice in the secure prison estate gathered momentum internationally. In the UK, the interest in restorative justice practices was revived post the coalition government election. Through their ‘Breaking the Cycle’ Green Paper, the new administration stated their intentions for key reforms to adult and youth justice sentencing philosophy and practice. In fact, in its 2014 Commissioning Intentions document, NOMS specifically asked its prisons to deliver restorative justice. This was supported by a government-led Restorative Justice Action Plan covering all parts of the criminal justice system as well as an investment of over £30 million, most of which was given to the newly formed Police and Crime Commissioners. An additional half-million was given to two organisations to provide training to prison officers on restorative justice. The biggest investment, however, is said to be the pre-sentence restorative justice provisions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which is already in force. These make it explicit that the courts can use their existing powers to defer sentencing to allow for restorative justice to take place before passing a sentence. There are no limits as to the age or type of offence.

As the interest in restorative justice continues to grow, this paper aims to provide the developing policy field with further evidence on the effectiveness of restorative justice in the secure estate. On many occasions, I have argued that the emphasis of restorative justice researchers should not be to prove the superiority of restorative practices, but to help develop its potential through pilots and evaluation. I have also argued that although many claim to be using restorative justice, the practices are in fact still scant, and the evidence on their effectiveness thin.

This article is based on evidence from a three-year research programme that was funded by the European Commission and focused on the use of restorative justice in the secure estate with a particular emphasis on juvenile offenders. The project was carried out by The IARS International Institute in 2009-13. It started with an overview of the extant literature. It was then officially launched with an expert three-day seminar that took place in London in November 2009. Thirteen Hungarian criminal justice professionals (i.e. prison governors, probation staff, judges, prosecutors, and researchers) attended workshops organised by IARS in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust, NACRO, Southwark Youth Offending Team, London Probation, Dr. Martin Wright, and the Register of restorative justice Practitioners.

The preliminary findings from the workshops were complemented with a literature review, followed by original qualitative research that was carried out throughout the UK and combined 20 in-depth interviews with prison governors, restorative justice practitioners, policy makers and academics. The fieldwork also included observation of restorative justice practice and five in-depth interviews with young people who had received a custodial sentence and had direct experience with restorative justice.

The UK research was concluded with an expert half day seminar that was held in London in November 2010. The seminar was organised by IARS in partnership with Open University. Forty experts in the field of restorative justice, policy and criminal justice attended the seminar. Participants included public bodies such as the Ministry of Justice, NOMS, Home Office, Youth Justice Board, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Probation, independent organisations such as Prison Reform Trust, the Restorative Justice Council and Victim Support, restorative justice community based practices and prison staff. Academics and researchers in the field of restorative justice also participated in the discussions.

 

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