Restorative Justice (RJ) is not a new process; it has been used for many years and in the case of youths (those aged between 10 and 18 years old) since 2001.
Between this date and now there has been a much better focus on RJ and the benefits for both victim and offender. In addition, the guidelines that the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Courts now follow, means that RJ is the primary focus of these organisations of the Criminal Justice System (CJS).
Government research has shown that RJ has an 85% satisfaction rate among victims of crime and this high figure is because the victims have had answers to their questions, which a court cannot often assist with via a prosecution.
Many victims of a crime want to know why they were chosen, who the offender was and what drove them to commit the crime.
These questions can be asked in a court; however, nothing forces someone to answer. In addition, the make-up of any courtroom will naturally place a divide between the victim and offender, not least because any communications by either party is channelled through the magistrate or judge.
The court process leaves many victims still feeling the impact of the crime against them, where there has not been any closure.
RJ deals effectively with the questions victims have, because it will bring them into direct communication with the offender, or through a trained mediator, where not only will their questions be answered, but it will give victims the opportunity to tell the offender the impact that the crime has had on them, which is something a perpetrator of crime seldom thinks about because they will not know the owner of a car that has been damaged, or a home that was burgled.
RJ places a much more personal touch on crime. Government research figures will show that there is a 14% reduction in the number of offenders who go on and commit crime again.
This shows the two way benefit to the process because it makes a perpetrator realise the impact the crime has had on someone and allows them to meet the victim and acknowledge that there are people involved, whereas before they just see a car or a home as an object which provides the opportunity for crime and to make some money, so RJ personalises the process.
For RJ to work, both the victim and perpetrator will need the agree to take part. RJ is often used instead of a prosecution through the court, where applicable and this will depend on the offending history of someone and the public interest factor.
Offending history is very important. Clearly someone who regularly commits crime and shows no desire to change is not suitable for RJ and the courts will deal with these offenders and use the various punishments at their disposal.
Public interest factors are important too, because some crimes are quite minor or have not really affected someone or the community all that much, so it would be disproportionate to spend public money on an expensive court hearing, where there is an alternative option. An example would be a one-off low value criminal damage offence which could be dealt with quickly by payment being made to the victim.
The word `quickly` helps to provide another example of a benefit of RJ; It can bring about a quick solution to the aftermath of a crime because one of the main criticisms of the CJS is that many months go by before a case is heard and it then causes the victim to re-live the event they have spent this time in trying to forget about it.
Many youth cases are dealt with through RJ, where it will form part of a diversionary method to heir offending. The RJ processes for youths are managed by the Youth Offending Team, which can include volunteer members from the community too.
Within the RJ process is a community panel meeting. This caters for cases where there are many victims and perpetrators.
The panel meetings would be able to deal with cases of on-going anti-social behaviour and it will focus on the suffering caused to a community and look at ways to resolve the problem.
There are occasions where a court can defer the sentencing of an offender where RJ will form part of their sentence, so the perpetrator will be given time to do something before sentence to address their offending, which will then give them a more lenient sentence.
Where RJ is chosen over prosecution, it will first have to fit into the criteria set within the CJS, however, a provision is made to allow a review of any case where the perpetrator has failed to engage with the process, which will include them facing being sent to court for sentencing.
The whole movement towards RJ was led by victims, who would often complain about dissatisfaction from the court or police cautioning process, because it failed to address their needs.
RJ is now designed to fit individual cases and the 85% victim satisfaction rate is testament to the success of the process.