Restorative justice in prisons

This is a guest post from the Restorative Justice Council who launched their guide to restorative justice in prisons earlier this week.

Restorative justice in custodial settings information pack – available now

In the wake of David Cameron’s speech on prison reform last Monday, the Restorative Justice Council (RJC) has published an information pack on restorative justice in custodial settings. The pack is aimed at helping governors of prisons, young offender institutions (YOIs) and other custodial establishments to recognise the benefits of restorative justice and make high quality restorative justice more widely available.

Current reforms: an opportunity for restorative justice

The government’s plans for reforms to the prison system envisage greater autonomy for prison governors, more transparency around reoffending rates for individual prisons, and a pilot of six new ‘reform prisons’. These reforms are intended to ensure that the prisons are focused on rehabilitation, with the available resources focused on effective work to reduce reoffending.

These reforms will incentivise governors to make restorative justice more widely available, with robust research demonstrating that restorative justice is an effective intervention that is proven to reduce reoffending by 14%. It holds offenders to account for what they have done and helps them to take responsibility and make amends, while also helping victims to put the crime behind them and move on.

In response to these proposed reforms, the RJC’s chief executive officer, Jon Collins, said:

If prison governors want to reduce reoffending while promoting the interests of victims in the justice system, it is vital that they ensure restorative justice is available.

The initial pilot of six ‘reform prisons’ will provide an opportunity to show how well restorative justice can work in a prison context. These prisons should all ensure that restorative justice is used to support rehabilitation and help offenders to put their offending behaviour behind them and move on with their lives.

Restorative approaches can also be used within prisons as a method of conflict resolution, both between prisoners and between prisoners and staff. It can therefore help prisons provide a safer and more positive environment.

The information pack

In order to support custodial establishments to understand the benefits of restorative justice and how best to deliver or commission it safely, the RJC has developed an information pack on restorative justice that will be sent to every prison and YOI in England and Wales. Endorsed by the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Reform Trust, the information pack contains contributions from independent restorative justice providers and custodial establishments from across the country and provides information on potential delivery models for high quality restorative justice in custodial settings.

The pack outlines two potential delivery models – building capacity within the prison and creating a supportive environment to enable external agencies to deliver restorative justice on their behalf. It references guidance to help prisons provide a supportive environment for external providers and features an article outlining how such partnership delivery – often with voluntary sector organisations – can work in practice.

The pack also contains an article on the restorative prison concept, where restorative approaches can be applied to the management of whole prisons. This can help to tackle violent behaviour, improve desistance and build positive relationships between prisoners and prison staff – some of the drivers of much needed change to the prison estate which will support the effective rehabilitation of offenders.

Finally, the information pack contains the stories of people who have taken part in restorative justice in a custodial setting. These case studies successfully illustrate the life-changing effects of the restorative process. One case study features Jason, a young man sentenced to five years at a young offender institution. Jason turned his life around after meeting his victims in a restorative justice conference.

Another features Ed and Rumbie, a young couple who were given the opportunity to meet their offender at Pentonville prison. The restorative justice meeting took place after their new flat was burgled two weeks after moving in. In both cases, the participants were left feeling relieved, empowered and in a much stronger position to move on with their lives.

restorative justice handshake

Delivering quality restorative justice

In order to achieve these positive outcomes, restorative justice must be delivered to a high standard. The RJC has developed clear, evidence-based standards and guidance to support the delivery of quality restorative practice and has put mechanisms in place to enable organisations, including prisons, to demonstrate they meet those standards.

Two years ago, HMP Leeds celebrated becoming the first prison to achieve the RJC’s Restorative Service Quality Mark (RSQM), an award for organisations which can demonstrate that they meet the six Restorative Service Standards. Their experience are described in the information pack, which also includes further information on the RSQM.

The use of restorative justice in custodial settings can contribute significantly to a reduction in reoffending, reduce violence within prisons and help victims of crime to recover. This information pack is intended to help prisons to work in partnership with the restorative justice field to make sure that restorative justice is available in prisons and YOIs across England and Wales.

The Restorative justice in custodial settings information pack is available to download here.

For further information follow the RJC on Twitter @RJCouncil or visit www.restorativejustice.org.uk

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