New research on restorative justice, published by our Research Unit, has shown that victims and offenders are likely to gain encouraging benefits from the process. This is when they are sufficiently motivated to take part and know what it involves as the process of communication between them can repair some of the harm caused by the crime.
The report (Restorative Justice: Enabling Communication, Repairing Harm) also sets out a series of recommendations for policymakers and commissioners to improve the effectiveness and use of this intervention in future. This includes increasing victim and offender awareness and considering where it is used at different points in the criminal justice process.
Nevertheless, restorative justice is not for everyone, as it is apparent that not everyone gains from it and as such practitioners must assess suitability on an individual basis. Those who do participate can find it emotionally bruising and strength of character is required by both victims and perpetrators to face and overcome difficult previous life experiences.
Our research team evaluated the work delivered by Wales Probation Services through a series of in-depth interviews with participants and facilitators over three years (2018-2020). The study looks at the personal outcomes resulting from restorative justice and examines why people choose to take part.
The three main findings were:
- Most victims are glad that they undertook the process, however emotionally draining it may be. They experience the opportunity to pose the questions that trouble them whilst also enabling a perpetrator to accept some degree of responsibility for their actions through some form of written or in-person discourse.
- For perpetrators of crime, although some initial level of acceptance of responsibility is a pre-requisite, this acceptance develops as the intervention progresses, with corresponding insight development into the consequences of their behaviour. Both parties require support from restorative justice facilitators to progress through the intervention. Restorative justice appears effective across a range of offence types.
- Most victims and perpetrators within this study expressed positive regard towards the process of restorative justice in procedural terms. They would recommend it to others in similar positions. Despite some limitations within the process, most participants feel it is a worthwhile exercise. However for some victims or perpetrator it presented challenges believing it had a limited or even negative impact upon them. Others felt that it did not offer them the opportunity to fully express what they wanted to say.
The key recommendations from the research included:
- Further promotion and information about restorative justice services including to probation staff, victims, perpetrators, community and statutory agencies.
- Embed restorative justice more widely by supporting all service users sentenced to Rehabilitation Activity Requirements to be assessed for their suitability.
- Make restorative justice more of a feature within sentence planning.
- Conduct further research into restorative justice focused on issues such as its longer-term impacts, when and how to approach victims and the extent and effectiveness of partnership working between statutory agencies and community-based organisations to promote awareness and uptake.
Suki Binning, Executive Director of Justice and Social Care and the Group’s Chief Social Worker stated:
❝ The broad findings from the research show that the clearer the process, preparation and expectations are, the more likely restorative justice will be beneficial. In addition, it has to be recognised that it will not benefit everyone and therefore suitability has to be carefully assessed at an individual level.
“As well as potentially providing support for the victim, it can have the positive impact on an offender in helping them to understand the result of their actions, which in turn, can support them in turning their back on a future life of crime.
“More research should be undertaken in this field but the findings from this research in Wales show this is a form of intervention that can have benefits so it should form part of the overall rehabilitation picture.”