Police throughout the UK are making restorative practices their firstline of defense for dealing with neighborhood disputes, first-time andlow-level youth offenders, youth crime in schools, and some adultcases, resulting in high victim satisfaction and reductions inoffending, as reported in this article by Joshua Wachtel.
Police in roughly 50 percent of counties in England and Wales employsome form of restorative justice (RJ). Constables in districtsincluding Dorset (southwest), Cheshire and Lancashire (northwest), Hull(northeast) and Norfolk (east) are actively making restorativepractices (RP) their first line of defense — at officers’ discretion —for dealing with neighborhood disputes, first-time and low-level youthoffenders, youth crime in schools, and some adult cases.
The movement toward RP is partly a reaction to national policytargets emphasizing “sanction detection,” which increased the number ofcrimes prosecuted. As a consequence, prisons became overcrowded and thenumber of youth brought into the criminal justice system for the firsttime nearly doubled, many for crimes that formerly would have beendealt with by schools, parents, the community or the neighborhood“bobby.” Also, said Garry Shewan, assistant chief constable of CheshirePolice, “Officers have concentrated on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ ofdetections achieved with the least effort, ensuring that few persistentcriminals were amongst the increases in detected crimes. Performancemanagement has brought many more offenders to justice, only they arethe wrong offenders” (Shewan, 2009).
However, a recent policy change by the Home Office, the nationalgovernment department that oversees policing, has established criteriafor reviewing police performance based on public confidence and trustrather than on performance targets and sanction detection.Constabularies that had previously piloted restorative justice programswithout a national legal mandate to do so believe this change inperformance assessment authorizes them to use RJ in more cases.
Yvonne Surman, manager of the Safe Schools and Communities Team, apartnership of the Dorset Police and the Dorset Youth Offending Team,said that the Home Office National Crime Recording Standard establishedin 2002 resulted in “a huge increase in young people receiving acriminal record. When a child had a fallout with a friend on theplayground, it used to be dealt with in school. Then police had torecord it as a crime and give it a number. We had a 171 percentincrease in reprimands and a 400 percent increase in final warnings,all for low-level things. It’s three strikes, you’re out. First areprimand, then a final warning, then you go to court.”
The Dorset Police are employing RJ to help reduce the number ofyouth entering the justice system. They are also satisfying victims ofcrime in the process. Said Surman, “This is not police driven. It is avery victim-focused process. We want to see that the victims aresatisfied about how a crime is dealt with.”
Restorative reprimands for first-time youth offenders are offeredfor low-level crimes like minor criminal damage or theft, where thereis no injury and less than £200 of damage. The officer asks theoffender and then the victim if they want to participate in arestorative conference, which may also be attended by family andfriends of the victim and offender and other affected parties. In thefirst six months of the pilot, which began in April 2008, victimsatisfaction rates approached 98 percent, and the number of youthentering the justice system was reduced by 44 percent. (Go to: www.dorset.police.uk/default.aspx?page=2516 for a short article and video of an actual restorative reprimand with a boy who threw a rock, breaking a train windshield.)
For some very minor offenses, a new national program called the YouthRestorative Disposal (YRD) gives officers the discretion to deal with acase right then and there, on the street. Trained officers may also useRP to handle neighborhood disputes. In one case, where for years thepolice had tried everything but had continually failed to quell anendless stream of complaints between two neighboring households, arestorative conference was finally held with the families. The policecouldn’t believe it when the previously contentious neighbors went hometo have a barbecue together. Dorset Police are also training schools touse RP for discipline and in day-to-day teacher-student interactions.
Kim Smith, restorative justice development manager for Norfolk Police,has been working to train and promote the use of RJ in Norfolk for twoyears. Said Smith, “RJ is being developed on a variety of fronts, andit’s growing exponentially in terms of the interest being generated.”Smith started out training a small cohort of local officers aboutconferencing. Now about 20 percent of the frontline policing staff hasbeen trained by Smith and IIRP UK (www.iirp.org/uk).Officers receive a three-day training on how to facilitate restorativeconferences or a one-day awareness training on how to use restorativequestions like, “What happened?” “Who was affected?” and “What can bedone to repair the harm?” to help resolve disputes immediately on thestreet. Said Smith, “Many of the cases are problems we couldn’t dealwith using a conventional policing perspective. Here it’s dealt with intwo hours.”
Smith, who previously worked in London and facilitated restorativeconferences in the pilot research programs run by Lawrence Sherman,Wolfson Professor of Criminology at Cambridge University (see eForumarticle, “Restorative Justice: The Evidence” here),said he finds that in Norfolk County, where there is more of acommunity spirit than in urban areas, “You’re rebuilding some of thosecommunity links again.” He gave the example of a case involving a groupof youngsters who were planning to go to a school dance. When the eventwas canceled some youth “got drunk and went on a mini-rampage aroundtown. Police ran a conference to address some of the harm, and the kidswere happy for a chance to accept responsibility for their actions.”
In Cheshire, approximately 1,000 staff, or 85 percent of frontlinepolice, have received “Level One” training by Restorative Solutions,directed by Sir Charles Pollard, former chief constable of ThamesValley Police. Like the IIRP training, this one-day training givesofficers an ability “to run a conversation or meeting between people inconflict over ‘low-level’ or minor issues” (www.restorativesolutions.org.uk). “Level Two” training offers two more days and prepares facilitators to run face-to-face meetings.
According to assistant chief constable Garry Shewan, Cheshire Policeare currently handling 100 to 150 crimes per month with restorativemethods. The majority are youth crimes, but some are adult. The processis restricted neither to an age group nor to first-time offenders. Eachofficer makes a decision based on offender risk factors and victimconcerns. So far, the police department has found that 97 percent ofits RJ disposals have been “appropriate and correctly delivered.” SaidShewan, “Give the officers trust, and they are delivering high qualityRJ interventions.”
Shewan added that RJ has often been used for “lower-level incidents,with no long-term community impact.” Now they are looking to apply RJfor more serious offenses, in cases with more long-term communityimpact. The cases are being closely monitored, and reports on theimpact are expected later in 2009. Shewan is particularly interested indemonstrating the impact of the programs on victim satisfaction andpublic confidence in the police force and believes that the resultswill be favorable.
Early indications show very high rates of victim satisfaction withthe process, along with a reduction in reoffending rates. An August2008 report states: “The predicted rate of recidivism for thosejuveniles within Cheshire who participated in a restorative approachwas 13%, against the national rate of reoffending of 23.2% and a localrate within Cheshire of 31% for those who were issued a reprimandinstead of the restorative approach. The rate of recidivism for adultoffenders committing their first offence and being dealt with throughRJ is 0% as opposed to the more traditional approach, where the rate is13%” (Taylor, 2008).
Shewan is the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers for Englandand Wales) lead on community and restorative justice and chair of theRAiN (Restorative Approaches in Neighborhoods) program, which providesa system for police to employ RP on the street. In this capacity,Shewan plays a key role in bringing together RP police advocates andadvancing RP throughout the UK. He plans to move to the Manchesterpolice force later in 2009 and hopes then to bring restorative policingto a major city.
Les Davey, former police officer and RJ pioneer with Thames ValleyPolice, the first UK police to adopt RJ, is now CEO of IIRP UK, whichhas trained police in Dorset, Norfolk and Hull. Davey argues that theeffectiveness of RJ has been proven. In a recent editorial he quotedone advocate, “Restorative justice in the UK is fast becoming the mostover-evaluated and under-practiced area of criminal justice” (Hoyle,2008), and another, “We can no longer afford for Restorative Justice tobe the most researched, most effective tool the Criminal Justice Systemdoes not use” (Restorative Justice Consortium, 2008). (See also eForumarticle, “Restorative Justice Reduces Crime and Saves Money” here.)Davey would like to see RJ used more with adults and with theburgeoning prison population. He noted that police in Hull, Norfolk andDorset are furthering the use of RP in schools and other areas.
“We’re at the brink of an opportunity to take this further intopolicing,” said Davey. “RJ is value for money, the evidence for it is beyond proven, and there are practical examples throughout the country.RP can meet the new objectives and outcomes police have for thecommunities they serve.”
Howard League Restorative Justice Working Group. (2008, March). Discussion Paper for the “Commission on English Prisons Today” (p.3). Oxford, UK: Carolyn Hoyle.
Bailey, H. & Igoe, C. (2008, Summer). Restorative justice does affect reconviction: The Ministry of Justice report into RJ. Resolution: News from the Restorative Justice Consortium, 30, 6.
Shewan, G. (2009, January). Restoring the faith. Police Professional, p. 15.
Taylor, J. (2008, August). An evaluation of the impact of restorative justice in Cheshire. Cheshire, UK: Cheshire Constabulary.