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Getting it right: restorative justice

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2015

Jon Collins, chief executive of the Restorative Justice Council, says restorative justice works – but must be delivered to a high standard.

When it’s done right, restorative justice changes lives. It offers victims the opportunity to meet and communicate with their offenders, giving them a voice and a chance to explain the personal impact of the crime. It can restore their sense of empowerment and help them move on with their lives. Crucially, restorative justice puts victims at the heart of the process, but it also holds offenders to account for what they have done and helps them to take responsibility and make amends.

The proof is in the figures – government research shows that 85% of victims who meet an offender face-to-face are satisfied with the outcome, while 80% report that they would recommend restorative justice to other victims of crime. The benefits also extend to offenders and the justice system itself, with restorative justice delivering a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending.

This evidence is supported by the stories of those who have been through the process. For example, Paula was a victim of sexually harmful behaviour who decided to take part in restorative justice. She said: “Restorative justice has been incredibly empowering. I’ve regained control by turning a negative, frightening experience into a positive, life-changing one. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Restorative justice can be used in response to any sort of crime and at any stage of the justice system, including alongside a custodial sentence in the most serious cases. In addition, restorative approaches aren’t just limited to the justice system. Restorative practice is an effective method for building strong relationships and can help prevent and manage conflict in schools, children’s services, workplaces, hospitals and communities.

We know that restorative justice works, but it’s essential that wherever it’s done, it’s delivered to a high standard. To make sure that this is the case, at the Restorative Justice Council we set clear standards for all those involved in the restorative justice field and provide quality assurance to help ensure that those standards are met.

One way that we’re doing this is through the Restorative Service Quality Mark (RSQM). Having just celebrated its first anniversary, the RSQM allows organisations to demonstrate through independent review that they are providing good quality, safe restorative practice.

The RSQM is underpinned by six Restorative Service Standards, which organisations must be able to meet in order to achieve the award. It gives the public confidence in the quality of restorative services, meaning that victims and offenders can take part in the process knowing that they are in safe hands. Currently 14 organisations have received the RSQM, including 12 from within the criminal justice system, and it’s continuing to gather momentum.

London Probation’s Restorative Justice Unit was one of the first organisations to achieve the RSQM. Liz Dixon, the organisation’s restorative justice co-ordinator, said: “Having the RSQM is akin to having professional status that you want to honour and live up to. We feel we have renewed legitimacy with our service users and are reassured that we’re on the right track. An important factor is that the award has bolstered the confidence of our facilitators when approaching ‘harmers’ and ‘the harmed’. It’s empowered us.”

This demonstrates the value of the RSQM. Those organisations that achieve it not only demonstrate that they are delivering a high-quality service, helping to build the confidence of partners, commissioners and the public, but also have an opportunity to celebrate their good work and build the confidence of their own staff and volunteers.

At the Restorative Justice Council we work to raise public awareness of restorative justice and boost people’s confidence in restorative processes. Ultimately, we want to create a restorative society where everyone has access to safe, quality restorative justice whenever they need it. The introduction of the RSQM has been an important step towards achieving this.

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