Restorative justice brings victims and offenders together, in the hope that offenders will see the negative impact that their actions have had on their victims, and also in the hope that victims will have questions regarding why they were chosen and why the offender committed the crimes answered. It is one of a number of initiatives that have been implemented in a bid to try and get victims more heavily involved in the justice process, but it is not only used in criminal justice cases.
It is being used increasingly in schools and even in the workplace in an effort to try and resolve conflicts and disputes, and to prevent problems from escalating out of control. The big question for most people, though, is does it really work? The government certainly seems to think so, and they have some compelling evidence and appealing statistics from extensive research that back up these claims.
The government commissioned a £7m research project, headed by Professor Joanna Shapland, which was conducted over a period of seven years. The research looked into various areas of the system, how it was used, whether it was utilised, and whether it was effective and cost effective.
Willingness To Participate
One of the major concerns of many people was whether parties would be willing to take party. According to Shapland’s findings, the majority of victims were willing to take part in conferences when they were offered by a trained facilitator. Furthermore, 85% of those that did take part said that they were satisfied with the process, representing a significant majority.
Additional analysis of the figures that were provided by the report showed that there was also a considerable saving to be made for the government. For every £1 spent on restorative justice, it was determined that the savings on reoffending rates was £8, and this could equate to a saving of £185m over the space of just two years. Further study on the potential financial benefits in a study called the Matrix Report not only suggested that a total of £1bn could be saved over the lifetime of the system, but that by implementing restorative justice conferences in place of community orders for offences involving youth offenders, it could save society approximately £275m.
Benefits To Victims
Arguably more important than the cost savings, however, is the benefit that restorative justice brings to those involved in crimes. Victims are typically left feeling helpless, and violent and sexual crimes especially, can lead to otherwise strong people being left feeling confused, and having many questions that they want answering. Without restorative justice, those questions are typically unanswered, or are answered only in general terms. Restorative justice can be used to give specific answers to specific problems by specific people.
Sometimes, face-to-face meetings are not an option. The victim may not feel safe, or the offender may not agree to the meeting. There may be other reasons why the facilitator believes that it is a bad idea, but this does not mean that restorative justice cannot be used still. The victim can be given the opportunity to record a video, and the offender asked to do something similar, giving both parties the opportunity to have their say and to hopefully lead towards lower reoffending rates, lower costs to society, and greater protection for the victims of crime.
The Future Of Restorative Justice
Restorative justice is still in its infancy, although considerable research has already been completed. So far, the results have been very positive, and there is an increasing number of people that are moving into the restorative justice field; both voluntary and paid positions.