This January, it was announced that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) would continue to receive money from the Ministry of Justice to fund services for victims of crime, a responsibility which was passed to PCCs in 2013/14. PCCs have been allocated £63m to fund victim’s services during the 2016/17 financial year, which is the same (in nominal terms) as they were given in the 2015/16 financial year.
This might be good news for those who support the growing use and development of restorative justice in the criminal justice process because the government considers it to be a service for victims. Restorative justice is defined by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as:
‘Process[es] that bring those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.’
Between 2013 and 2016, around £29m was earmarked for investment in restorative justice by the MoJ, with around £23m of this given to PCCs as part of the funding of services for victims. A further £6m has been invested in capacity building among Youth Offending Teams and the National Offender Management Service, as well as in the Restorative Justice Council’s promotion of safe and effective restorative justice through service-level accreditation. Though there is perhaps some uncertainty brought on by PCC elections this May, it seems reasonable to assume that their funding of restorative justice will continue in many part of England and Wales. Indeed, many PCCs have invested in restorative justice beyond their allocation within the victims’ services fund, including some who seem highly likely to be re-elected.
This recent investment marks a significant step change in the history of restorative justice’s development in the English and Welsh criminal justice process. Until very recently, restorative justice existed only in small pockets, namely where so-called ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (that is, reformist practitioners and policymakers working within justice agencies) liked the idea of restorative justice, and subsequently lobbied for its implementation within their organisations.
Thames Valley Police are an early example of this: around 15 years ago, the then-Chief Constable Charles Pollard decided to roll out restorative-style cautioning in his force area upon returning from a trip to Australia, where he witnessed police-led restorative justice in action. Although this scheme was largely discontinued in the following years, Thames Valley is now home to a fully-fledged restorative justice service which has recently been commissioned by the PCC to deliver restorative justice in the area.
It is no exaggeration to say that England and Wales has become a laboratory for experiments in the development of restorative justice. Recent legislation enables the use of restorative justice at the pre-sentence and post-sentence stages, namely the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, respectively.
PCC money has been used to allow justice agencies to hire specialists or build capacity to deliver restorative justice in-house, and to commission non-profits to develop referral process and deliver restorative justice services on behalf of justice agencies. One of the most innovative developments has perhaps been the new wave of organisations, partnerships and projects which refer to themselves as Restorative Justice Hubs. The responsibilities of these nascent organisations, which exist in Durham, Gloucestershire, Cleveland, South Yorkshire, Kent, Essex, Cheshire, Sussex and other locations, include: training front-line staff from the public, private and non-profit sectors in initiation and delivery; hiring professionals or recruiting volunteers to deliver and supervise cases; raising public awareness and understanding of restorative justice; developing local partnerships, policies, procedures, referral pathways and guidelines; and collating data on the use of restorative justice in their areas.
A recent mapping process commissioned by the Restorative Justice Council found that at least 7,000 cases of restorative justice took place last year in England and Wales. The implication is that restorative justice is here to stay, and those of us with an interest in penal reform, participatory justice and the rights of victims and offenders should observe the progress of these developments in England and Wales in the coming years.