This is a guest post by Ben Summerskill, Director of the Criminal Justice Alliance
Restorative Justice has wide public support…
Something I find striking across the criminal justice pathway is how often those who work in it express a quiet desperation that ‘things never change’. I’ve never really accepted that myself.
That’s because I believe strongly that things don’t change. People change things. However, sometimes in order to change things they need the right tools.
Something else that also often strikes me is how many proposed remedies are contested in the criminal justice world, even by practitioners. But one – restorative justice – is almost universally acknowledged to be effective. And just like many others, the more I’ve seen of restorative justice (RJ) and its real benefits for victims (all too many still shabbily treated by police, judges and courts) as well as offenders, the more persuasive the argument becomes.
Unlike so many sensible – but purportedly ‘unsaleable’ – criminal justice interventions RJ also has wide public support. Four in five people, according to 2016 Ipsos MORI polling for the Restorative Justice Council, believe victims should have the chance, should they wish, to meet their offender. The figure is even higher, at 85 per cent, among respondents who’ve been victims themselves.
…but is still often unavailable
In spite of this powerful combination of proven effectiveness and proven public backing, victims of crime are still only offered – in the Victims’ Code – an entitlement to be told about RJ rather an entitlement to actually access it. So a diligent police officer can be in the laughable position of advising a victim what RJ is, and then noting that sadly none is currently available in their locality.
As with the Code’s pledge of the opportunity of making a Victim Personal Statement – still currently offered in reality to just one in six victims – the absence of any enforcement to RJ in the Code makes a mockery of its purported intent.
Since 2016, the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) and our 120 member organisations have been committed to securing an entitlement in law to RJ. However, we recognise that – as with any publicly-funded service – it’s almost certainly true that what’s not costed will never actually be funded.
How much would universal RJ cost?
Until now, no one has been able to answer the question a minister, or manifesto-drafter, inevitably asks. Even if restorative justice evidently represents a significant public good, how much will it cost?
So the CJA has just published an estimated national cost should any new government’s criminal justice or victims’ legislation include – or be amended to include – an entitlement to RJ. Developed with the help of six expert organisations it makes evidence-based assumptions about offences that would sensibly qualify for RJ, and what the take-up by both victims and offenders – a partnership necessary for it to work – might be.
The estimated annual national cost, as the briefing demonstrates, would be £30.5 million. In other words, we’ve been able to evidence that this powerful potential contribution both to the better treatment of victims and the rehabilitation of offenders need not, in fiscal terms, be that expensive at all.
With the help of this important tool, we can all now credibly challenge ministers in a new government, PCCs and mayors to make this important prescription available at last to all victims for whom talk, in political terms, has all too often been cheap.
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