Influencing youth justice decisions

Restorative Justice

Restorative processes bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by an incident to play a part in attempting to repair the harm and finding a positive way forward.

For example, a Restorative Justice conference involves bringing victims and offenders together giving victims the chance to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and an apology. It provides an opportunity for offenders to understand the real impact of what they’ve done, to take responsibility and try to make amends. Restorative Justice holds offenders to account for what they have done, personally and directly, and can help victims understand the random nature of offending.

In 2011 the Prison Reform Trust Survey found that 88% of those surveyed thought that victims should be able to inform offenders about the harm and distress their offending caused.

What are the benefits?

Restorative Justice helps bring closure for a victim of crime. By speaking directly to the offender or via a mediator, they can begin to understand why they became a victim and are often able to overcome the fear of being victimised again. The offender is given the opportunity to fully appreciate the effect their behaviour has had on a person and confront their offending behaviour. Restorative Justice is proven to reduce reoffending because of this level of understanding and appreciation of the harm caused by an offence.

Some young people will have health difficulties which impact on their ability to participate fully in the restorative process, for example, learning disabilities, speech and communication problems, mental health issues or developmental problems. If a young person is unable to understand the level of harm caused by their offending behaviour, the victim may find the experience unsatisfactory and the young person may also not fully benefit from the Restorative Justice process, which may be less effective in potentially reducing further offending. Someone who cannot express themselves well because of speech and communication difficulties may be interpreted as being belligerent and failing to show remorse, when this is not necessarily the case.

Linking Restorative Justice with diversion

Many cases of Restorative Justice are completed instantly. Research suggests that restorative justice is more effective when it is properly targeted and where it involves face to face contact. The process can also be more effective if:

  • Young people are properly screened for any difficulties which might hinder the restorative meeting
  • There is preparation with the victim and the young person where communication difficulties or other problems affecting the outcome are identified
  • Young people with any vulnerabilities are identified and supported early to get the help they might need after the restorative meeting

For all these reasons, good links need to be made between police and YOTs involved in this work and the Youth Justice Liaison Diversion scheme. For example, a young person with a speech and language difficulty may not be able to write down or communicate a reasoned apology for the victim; eg someone with mental health problems or on the autistic spectrum may struggle to show empathy. Additional preparation may need to take place in these instances to prepare victims and to help young people understand what is expected of them. Officers or workers managing this process may need generic training from a local speech and language therapist in their use of language and management of the process to help deal with such situations fairly and to comply with the Equality Act 2010. YJLD workers will also need to be contacted where there are concerns about the young person’s level of functioning in the restorative process so that early intervention and support can be made available to support their broader progress.

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