Enhancing police-led restorative justice

Daniel Burn, Professor Adam Crawford, Dr Emily Gray and Professor Joanna Shapland

When delivered in accordance with principles and values, restorative justice can benefit both victims of crime and offenders, by bringing those harmed by crime and those responsible for the harm together, into communication, to resolve how best to respond to the offence and repair the harm done. However, although supported by extensive international research evidence, encouraging the use of restorative justice within policing is challenging, with officers’ decisions around which disposals to use in any given case still largely offender-focused. Consequently, although there have been recent developments in promoting restorative justice in policing, by the Ministry of Justice (through the Victim Fund) and in the Victims’ Code, there remains a considerable gap between the Government’s position and what happens on the frontline. To some extent this is unsurprising given the fact that the core principles, values and expectations of restorative approaches are different to, and sometimes at odds with, current established policing practices, priorities and ways of thinking and working, though not overall policing values.

Between September 2015 and September 2017, a team of researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds conducted a research project on restorative justice in policing. Funded by the College of Policing Police Knowledge Fund (with HEFCE/Home Office funding), the project ‘Developing restorative policing’ was a collaboration 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 there were significant organisational and cultural barriers to increasing the take up of restorative justice in policing. Ensuring officers are equipped with the confidence and tools required to identify cases suitable for restorative justice and the skills/ knowledge to either deliver it either themselves (e.g. ‘street RJ’), or make a referral to a restorative justice service provider, is crucial to successful implementation. Equally, this should complement officers’ roles, acknowledging the fact that some roles (e.g. Safer Schools Officers and those who work in community-based or neighbourhood policing) are more suited to restorative justice than others (e.g. response officers – for whom referrals to an external restorative justice service provider may be more appropriate). In terms of training, the research found that those who participated in longer, more in depth training (such as two to three day restorative justice facilitator training) tended to benefit the most, particularly due to the practical/ role play elements of such training. It is also important that such training is repeated, so new officers can receive it, as well as there being (shorter) refresher training for officers already trained, delivered periodically, in order for them to maintain their skills.

The research also found that it is important for restorative justice to be rooted in mainstream police practice and to be something that permeates the whole police organisation, from the Senior Command Team to the frontline. Senior buy-in shows a commitment, from police leaders, to the principles of restorative justice. However, communications and messages need to be clear, reiterated and built into supervision and quality control mechanisms, in order to be effective and not lost in translation as they pass down the chain of command or become confused in a sea of other police priorities.

Having a ‘restorative justice champion’ – someone based locally, driving restorative justice – aids delivery, as they can act as a ‘go to’ person, able to coordinate developments and initiatives, and promote and disseminate information and good practice. Such a role has to be properly supported and resourced, and not something that is tokenistic.

Effective partnership working is crucial for police referring cases for restorative justice to external service providers. This is also something that benefits victims, who are given access to specialist services that prioritise their needs. Though police practice has in recent years taken on board the needs for safeguarding and supporting victims of crime, it remains the position that officers’ decisions on disposals seem to be influenced by offenders’ records and offence types, rather than victim needs. Hence referrals may be low in number and oriented towards more minor offences, particularly given officers were not aware of the benefits of restorative justice to victims in more serious cases. Although relationships between police and restorative justice providers can be challenging, the research highlighted that there are ways to make these more effective, including: effective information sharing processes, joint discussions about cases and decision making, not having cases remain on police books until the whole restorative justice process is complete, and having an electronic referral process (i.e. on officers’ hand-held devices).

Although there are a number of cultural, procedural and organisational obstacles, it is clear from this, and other research, that restorative justice benefits both victims of crime (in terms of having a voice and being sensitively treated) and offenders (in terms of holding them accountable for their actions and reducing the burden on the criminal justice system, as well as reducing reoffending), and the police organisation more generally. In addition, providing opportunities for restorative responses to crime helps shape the best use of police discretion in ways that directly serve the needs of victims.

Findings from each stage of the project have been published and are freely available from the University of Sheffield, Centre for Criminological Research, Occasional Papers website:

  • Stage 1 Report:

Developing restorative policing in Humberside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.682936!/file/developing-restorative-policing-stage1-report.pdf

  • Stage 2 Report:

Learning lessons from Belgium and Northern Ireland  https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.714948!/file/Comparative-report-publication.pdf

  • Stage 3 Report:

Restorative justice at the level of the police in England: implementing change https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.743733!/file/DevelopingRestorativePolicing3.pdf

A summary of the research findings is available at: http://n8prp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Restorative-justice-findings-final-Jan-2018.pdf

Daniel Burn is a Research Officer at the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds

Professor Adam Crawford is the Director of the Leeds Social Sciences Institute and Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Leeds and the Director of the N8 Policing Research Partnership.

Dr Emily Gray is as Research Associate at the School of Law, University of Sheffield

Professor Joanna Shapland is the Director of the Centre for Criminological Research and  Edward Bramley Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Sheffield

For further information contact:

Joanna Shapland, email: j.m.shapland@sheffield.ac.uk; Tel: 0114 222 6712

Adam Crawford, email: a.crawford@leeds.ac.uk; Tel: 0113 343 5045


4 thoughts on “Enhancing police-led restorative justice

  1. Pingback: Enhancing police-led restorative justice – Future Justice

  2. Pingback: Police-led restorative justice | Modern Policing

  3. Pingback: Police-led restorative justice | World Policing

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