Youth justice project
Last week, Why me? published a new report ‘Understanding barriers to Restorative Justice for young people, young adults and victims of crime‘. It forms part of the organisation’s three year youth justice project during which it conducted a total of seven partnerships, 32 service user interviews, 39 staff members interviews, five focus groups, and four restorative circles. Drawing together the findings of this work, the report identifiee five key barriers for young people accessing Restorative Justice:
- Awareness and misconceptions: There was a distinct lack of awareness of what Restorative Justice is and the availability of the service.
- Terminology: When explaining Restorative Justice to young people and young adults, some of the terminology was confusing, including the term ‘Restorative Justice’ itself.
- Provision: Once young people and young adults in particular have been made aware of Restorative Justice and their ability to engage in the process should they wish, there is a lack of formal processes through which they can access the service.
- Mistrust of services: One of the key findings from the work focusing on disparities in the uptake of Restorative Justice particularly for young people and young adults from Black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds was the lack of trust in services, particularly regarding the police.
- Real-world examples: There is a distinct lack of offenders who offer to discuss their own experience of Restorative Justice.
Restorative justice within youth justice
Restorative Justice practices for young people can take place at different stages throughout the Youth Justice System and within a range of settings. Restorative Justice can be offered as part of a diversionary Out of Court Disposal, a legal community sentence such as a Referral Order, alongside a period of incarceration, or used in residential treatment settings and probation. Alternatively, this conflict resolution approach can be used as a preventive mechanism when applied to non-crime arenas such as in schools. Implementing restorative principles in a school environment has been found to have a positive impact on pupils, reduce student offending and “destroy the school-to-prison pipeline”.
The findings of the report are organised under the five key barriers outlined above. We summarise each briefly below.
Awareness and misconceptions
There was a distinct lack of awareness of what Restorative Justice is and the availability of the service. Many young people and young adults had never heard of Restorative Justice before and, once it was explained to them, there were a lot of misconceptions due to the lack of prior knowledge.
When explaining Restorative Justice to young people and young adults, some of the terminology can be confusing, including the term ‘Restorative Justice’ itself. Utilising consistent terminology that service users can understand and relate to is crucial to ensuring that they fully understand what Restorative Justice is. The researchers found that some young people were familiar with the key processes (from for example restorative work done at their school) but did not recognise or understand the terminology.
Put simply, even when young people are routinely offered the chance to participate in restorative justice in a way that makes the process clear, provision is patchy and varies considerably across the country.
Mistrust of services
One of the key findings from the work focusing on disparities in the uptake of Restorative Justice for young people and young adults from Black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds was the lack of trust in services, particularly regarding the police. This is particularly prevalent when the Officer in Charge of a case is the person who is offering information about Restorative Justice. There is still a lot of work to be done with building up trusting relationships between communities and statutory services like the police in order to streamline the ways in which people access information about and opportunities to engage in Restorative Justice to ensure consistency and equity.
Real world examples to act as case studies
While restorative justice organisations like Why me? have a number of ambassadors who have engaged in Restorative Justice as a victim, there is a distinct lack of offenders who offer to discuss their own experience of Restorative Justice.
Particularly for young adults in custody, having examples of offenders who have had positive experiences of a restorative process would have significantly increased their likelihood of engaging in Restorative Justice themselves. Across all the interview and focus group participants, the consensus was that the preferred method of Restorative Justice would be a face-to-face meeting. Therefore, the availability of real-world examples to act as case studies needs to be more accessible for everyone, including those in custody.