Restorative Practice is a ‘national asset’ during COVID-19 and beyond

In March, the CJA held a meeting of its Restorative Practice Expert Group to discuss how restorative approaches could reduce conflict and build safer communities in a range of settings during COVID-19. The expert group members discussed challenges, opportunities, and why Restorative Practice (RP) is a ‘national asset’ during COVID-19 and beyond.

We heard that many restorative practitioners are continuing to offer services via phone or video calls during COVID-19. However, face-to-face Restorative Justice (RJ) conferences involving prisons have been put on hold. The expert group noted that there will be a backlog of RJ cases because of this. Practitioners are speaking to victims to keep them updated as the situation progresses.

The group also discussed several ways in which RP could be used to improve outcomes for people across the criminal justice system during COVID-19. With prisoners in lockdown for 23 hours a day, there will likely be a rise in conflict and tension. Restorative practitioners could provide support to prisoners via the additional phones that have been rolled out across the prison estate. Practitioners could also put together restorative resources for prisoners and peer mentors, who can use restorative techniques to reduce conflict themselves.

The expert group also discussed the rise of domestic abuse and hate crime, and how RJ could be used in such cases. Greater use of RJ as an Out of Court Disposal would help reduce the pressure on courts, which are likely to be overwhelmed in coming months given the backlog of cases. Expert group members also discussed the early release of prisoners, and how RP could be used to reduce any conflict which arises when prison leavers return home at this stressful time.

Last year, we published a briefing on RJ provision across England and Wales, and what must be done to increase its use. One of the findings was that RJ works best when it is not used as an ‘add on’, but is delivered as part of a restorative culture where a range of restorative approaches are used. Over the coming months, the CJA will be producing a series of briefings for policy makers showcasing how restorative practice can reduce pressure on schools, the police, courts, prisons and probation, and how it can improve outcomes for people across the criminal justice system.

Research shows that RJ can increase victim satisfaction, improve their wellbeing and reduce reoffending. Implementing restorative practice will help build a criminal justice system that is fair and effective.

If you would like to join our Restorative Practice Expert Group, contact nina.champion@criminaljusticealliance.org.uk.