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We can afford restorative justice for all
All the political parties support restorative justice, so why is it so often unavailable? The Criminal Justice Alliance calculates an annual cost of just £30.5m

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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.


Blog posts in the Criminal Justice category are kindly sponsored by Get the Data which provides Social Impact Analytics to enable organisations to demonstrate their impact on society. GtD has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks for this Russell and Ben, I hadn’t yet seen the briefing and will read it now. I just have one comment which I also told Stephen M. when he called me from the CJA recently – the wording of any entitlement will be key. It can not be that “victims have the right, if they wish to, to meet their offenders” – it absolutely must be voluntary for offenders. The IPSOS Mori survey got this wrong in its question, and thus is not particularly reliable in gauging support for RJ. There is a massive risk of the government getting this particular point wrong, and victims who meet offenders that are coerced into participation will suffer as a result! Happy to speak more about this.

  2. Looking at it now. It is pretty good and your calculatons are reasonable given the data you put into them. That being said, why does the briefing only dealing with cautions and court cases, and not the high percentage of cases resolved through other OOCDs?

  3. Restorative Justice or Community Justice has been running in Nunavut for about 25 years, an increasing number of court cases are being transferred to Community Justice Committees. Victim involvement is not universal if they don’t want to be involved it’s their choice. The costs are $780,000 a year for facilitators and coordinators fees office rental. Difficult to turn that figure into a UK one everything is expensive in Nunavut incinerating a prisoner cost twice as much as in the UK over $100,000 per year so twice as expensive is realistic. The usual community work is snow shoveling.

  4. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, restorative justice is one of the most useful tools that the criminal justice system has, yet, the least used.
    The also has to be an argument to introduce restorative approaches into our schools as part of the national curriculum.

  5. This paper is right, there needs to be an idea of cost attributed to the provision of RJ, otherwise no-one is likely to commit funds. Whether the paper estimates the right cost or not, it leaves out a really important element – one that is commonly missed in much government thinking – and that is the investment aspect of RJ.
    Peter Woolf’s own example is appropriate, for it is stated in his excellent book (The Damage Done) that the estimation, using Home Office documents, of the saving that Peter’s departure from offending is of the order of £1.6 million compared with the cost of the RJ process of £800. Not every case is going to have this “payback”, some may have none, but to leave out the potential saving that RJ can bring is missing a real chance to persuade those that would invest that on top of the benefits that victims could achieve, there is also a financial payback to society as a whole.

    1. Thanks for commenting Richard. You make a very valuable point about the financial (as well as personal wellbeing & societal) benefits of RJ. If anyone wants to commission me to undertake a Cost Benefit Analysis of RJ, I’d be delighted to do so…

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