Enhancing the use of restorative justice at the level of the police in England

New research highlights the opportunities and challenges in fostering restorative justice in policing that benefits victims of crime. It evidences the possibilities to increase both the quality and quantity of restorative justice delivery and to implement the Victims’ Code requirements that victims are offered information about and opportunities for restorative justice.

Restorative justice at the level of the police in England: implementing change is the third report from the Police Knowledge Fund project ‘Developing restorative policing’. The research was a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds, together with Humberside Police and the PCC for Humberside, South Yorkshire Police and the PCC for South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire Police and the PCC for West Yorkshire, and Remedi (a restorative justice service provider).

The research found that fostering restorative justice at the front-line means engaging police officers to change their behaviour and embrace often new patterns of work. As such, it requires cultural and organisational change. Restorative justice necessitates a culture of learning and problem-solving – both thinking through what should happen following an incident and having the time and capability to look past the immediacy of the ‘job’ to the outcome of the case.

The major barriers in the police are largely cultural. While victim needs and victim vulnerability are now much more appreciated by police than previously, and supporting victims is recognised as a key police role across the organisation, ideas about appropriate disposals are still very offender-focused. It still tends to be the offender and the offence which determine perceived suitability, not what the victim needs or wants. Working in partnership with external restorative justice service providers can be challenging – given difficulties in information sharing, inter-agency working and communication issues – but can also provide victims with dedicated, specialist restorative justice services that are sensitive to their needs and interests.

Fostering confidence amongst officers is crucial to embedding their ability to offer and deliver restorative justice to victims. The research highlights examples of good practice, including the use of safer schools officers to promote the principled use of restorative justice with young people.

The research proposed and evaluated a number of practical strategies for embedding both short-term and long-term organisational and cultural change, including:

  • Designating pilot areas or teams to promote delivery, including training, in-station restorative justice ‘champions’ and encouraging referrals to voluntary sector providers.
  • Creating force-wide oversight and coordination, including encouragement and promotion by Senior Command Teams.
  • Creating restorative justice ‘champions’ to disseminate and foster good practice.
  • Ongoing training that is focused on officers actual roles and designed to foster confidence and understanding.
  • Developing simple electronic means for officers to refer cases.
  • Piloting the collection of victim satisfaction data.
  • Encouraging Scrutiny Panels to review restorative justice cases.

The research concluded that changing police responses and practices regarding restorative justice is not about constraining discretion (given other paths still exist), or reducing it (which may lead to resistance), or producing unthinking compliance (since each case needs assessment for its suitability), but rather about shaping the best use of discretion in each individual case.

The programme of action research was funded by the College of Policing’s Police Knowledge Fund over a period of nearly two years. During this time, the participating forces and Offices of the Police and Crime Commissioners contributed to, and oversaw, the design and implementation of the research with the research team from the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds. In response to recommendations from the researchers, all three forces embarked on a range of strategies to foster organisational changes which were then evaluated.

Commenting on the research and the value of the report, Keith Hunter, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Humberside (one of the three participating forces) stated:

“I am pleased to read this report as Restorative Justice is an area I am very committed to. I am grateful for the report findings and will discuss them further with Police Chief Officers and build the recommendations into our future Restorative Justice offer.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, the PCC for West Yorkshire, also welcomed the report and its findings:

“This report highlights the work that has been undertaken in the five districts of West Yorkshire and demonstrates my commitment to further embed Restorative Justice within Policing and other organisations to ensure that all victims have equal access to Restorative Justice Services as is highlighted in the Victims Code.”

Two earlier reports from the research set out: first, the background context in each of the force areas in terms of their development and implementation of restorative justice Developing restorative policing in Humberside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire;  and, second, lessons from recent comparative developments in other jurisdictions where significant progress has been made in institutionalising restorative justice at the level of the police Learning lessons from Belgium and Northern Ireland.

All three reports are freely available to download from the University of Sheffield, Centre for Criminological Studies, Occasional Papers website:  https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/law/research/clusters/ccr/occasionalpapers

 

For further information contact:

Joanna Shapland – j.m.shapland@sheffield.ac.uk – Tel: 0114 222 6712

Adam Crawford – a.crawford@leeds.ac.uk – Tel: 0113 343 5045

For information about the Police Knowledge Fund visit:

http://whatworks.college.police.uk/Partnerships/Knowledge-Fund/Pages/Police-Knowledge-Fund.aspx

 

 

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