Restorative justice (RJ) is a voluntary process that brings together victims and offenders to better help repair the harm caused by a crime. It’s has been proven to increase victims’ satisfaction with the criminal justice system, reduce their anxiety and fear, and – moreover – increase the likelihood of restitution and apologies from offenders.
RJ also reduces the chance that a person who commits a crime will go on to reoffend, the most important priority for victims of crime. In other words, RJ is a really good thing. And most people support its principle aim – 2016 polling by the Restorative Justice Council showed four in five people thought a victim should have the right to meet their offender. The problem is that not enough people know about RJ, and its availability to those who could benefit most from it – victims of crime – remains poor.
Latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales show that less than five per cent of victims were offered the opportunity to meet their offender. Worryingly, this proportion has actually declined in recent years. Particularly frustrating is that a national entitlement to restorative justice for victims would not be extremely costly – the CJA’s detailed research published earlier this year estimates an annual cost of just £30m.
Why Me’s ‘Valuing Victims’ campaign has been tracking the funding of RJ services through Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). They’ve shown that between 2013 and 2016, the Ministry of Justice gave PCCs £23m to implement restorative justice services. But for 2016/17, this funding came out of general victims’ funds for PCCs and was not ring-fenced for RJ services. The result? While nearly £13m was spent on RJ services in 2015/16, less than £5m was spent in the last year.
There are also clear differences in RJ prioritisation across different PCC areas. Nearly a quarter of the total spend on victims’ services in Durham was allocated to RJ services. But for many places in the country, including London, this proportion is a tiny three per cent or lower. If the Ministry of Justice is serious about providing ‘equal access’ to RJ for victims ‘irrespective of their location’ – as stated in its RJ action plan for 2016/18 – then it needs to require greater allocation of PCCs’ victims’ funds to RJ services.
It’s over 15 years since Jack Straw promised to ‘bring victims in from the cold and put their interests at the heart of the system’. But victims continue to be side-lined by the criminal justice system. Making restorative justice available to all victims of crime would go a long way to fulfilling that promise.
Peter Keeling leads the Restorative Justice workstream at the CJA.