RJ Week 2020 sees key policy decision for restorative justice

Amal Ali, Policy Officer - 24 November 2020

Restorative Justice Week is an international event for practitioners and experts to celebrate and showcase restorative work that has taken place over the last twelve months. RJ Week also aims to raise the profile of restorative work, its well-evidenced benefits and its potential.

The last 12 months have been a time of unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused heightened tension and anxiety both in our criminal justice system and wider society. And on top of this, there is another virus that people of colour have long endured, and that is the virus of racism. The police killing of George Floyd, in the backdrop of a global pandemic which has disproportionately affected minority communities, has reinforced the importance of discussions about race and equality, even if they are uncomfortable. Now more than ever, there is a need for open and restorative dialogue about race, power and privilege to begin the process of healing.

Why is RJ Week important?

RJ Week is not just an opportunity for those working in the restorative field to come together and reflect on positive work but also to spread awareness about RJ. As noted in the CJA briefing A Journey of Learning, Growth and Change, RJ services are hampered by low referral rates, which are themselves a symptom of low awareness of restorative interventions across the criminal justice system. The latest data shows that only 4.8 percent of victims recall being offered the opportunity to meet the person who caused them harm.

RJ Week also provides an opportunity to discuss wider restorative approaches and practice, which often take place before conflict escalates to crime and police involvement, in settings such as schools and mental health services.

What did the CJA get up to during RJ week?

Last week I attended the Restorative Justice Council Annual Conference, which included sessions on hate crime, introducing restorative practice into organisations and restorative cities.

One panel discussion I listened to focused on restorative practices in schools. One panellist explained that many schools work in restorative ways, though they often do not realise this. Panellists discussed the challenges they faced when implementing restorative practices, such as that restorative practice takes a lot longer to embed than a conventional behaviour strategy, and already exhausted staff can become disillusioned. Another explained that it was challenging to align restorative practice with what was happening in the child’s home and that it was important to bring parents along on the journey. Restorative practice in schools is an area of interest for the CJA and we will shortly be publishing a report on dismantling the school–to–prison pipeline as part of our Responding Restoratively Series.

I also attended a keynote presentation by Dr Ernest Quimby, a professor at Howard University, who discussed aligning RJ with social justice. Dr Quimby presented findings from a series of conversations between restorative practitioners and researchers, facilitated by the Restorative Justice Council. Ernest explained that the conversations were instigated by the global demand for racial equality and justice. Participants recommended the creation of an international forum to discuss aligning RJ with social justice in more depth, with working groups made up of both restorative and social justice organisations.

A successful week for RJ

Last week, the Ministry of Justice published the new, proposed Victims’ Code, which is due to come into force on April 2021. This follows our response to the Victims Code consultation, drawing on the insights of our Restorative Expert Group. We are delighted to see that the new Victims’ Code includes a right for victims to be referred to a RJ service. This is a welcome approach, given that research shows RJ can improve victim satisfaction and wellbeing. The new code places responsibility not just on the police but also on external agencies to share information about RJ with victims. This follows the CJA raising concerns about Black, Asian and minority ethnic victims who might be less likely to trust information given to them by the police.

Last week the CJA also took part in a roundtable with the Victims’ Commissioner’s office to discuss the proposed Victims’ Law. After consulting with CJA members, we highlighted the need for a statutory right to be referred to an RJ service; to have a trained facilitator explain the process, rather than the police; more resources for specialist voluntary sector victims’ services and better support for Black, Asian and minority ethnic victims of crime.

Responding Restoratively to COVID-19

In August, we published our Responding Restoratively to COVID-19 report. The report explored how restorative practice and approaches have been used to alleviate tensions and conflict caused by COVID-19. We made several recommendations to the government and other policy makers, urging them to embed RJ and restorative practice more widely, to help the criminal justice system and wider society recover from the pandemic.

With England in yet another national lockdown, the CJA has written several letters to ministers and other government officials to share this timely report and request a response to the recommendations. We will keep members updated.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions altering the way #RJWeek2020 events have taken place this year, the discussions were informative, thought-provoking and full of hope and promise. We have seen in the policy developments last week that there is a growing appetite for restorative practice and approaches.

Are you an organisation working in restorative justice or practice who’d like to become a member of the CJA to influence government policy? Contact jamie.morrell@criminaljusticealliance.org.uk