Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Restorative Justice - we can have more of it, if we expand its options

My submission to the Labour Party's Policy Commission:

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a progressive means to a more effective end. Research shows it leads to up to 25% less reoffending at 1/9th the cost - and with vast improvements in both victim and offender satisfaction in process.

But it's currently primarily used for teen offenders for non-violent crimes. How to get it better embedded and more widely used?

Two keys to unlocking this:

First is RJ requires offenders to admit guilt. They are then free to agree or reject contract at end of meeting. If they fulfil it, they are 'restored' avoiding court, prison and have a clean record. But if they don't do so, the consequences are almost trivial: a new process might start all over again or proceed to court where previous admission of guilt in RJ is inadmissable.

So first recommended change is to say RJ matters and an admission of guilt to victims counts. End inadmissibility of previous guilt confession. Consider further penalities, including suspended sentence for violent offenders who break RJ contract.

Second is RJ options. These include non-punitive measures almost by definition: community sentences, drug and/or alcohol treatment, cognitive behaviour treatment sessions, etc.

It's certainly true that a punitive system is problematic and, as found, can be very counterproductive. Progressives shoudl support a less punitive system.

While clear a punitive-driven approach is mean spirited and counterproductive, it is also clear that no punitive options doesn't enable 'restoration' in every case.

So second recommended change is greater range of options for different kinds of offences (perhaps categorised A, B, C) where in some exceptional cases hard treatment in the form of residential drug and alcohol treatment, etc is on offer.

These more taxing options are justified purely on grounds of restoration where less taxing options ineffectual or likely to be so. They could build confidence that RJ is no 'easy' option - nothing easy about receiving treatment, doing community sentence, etc. - with added teeth of consequences if contract broken.

I note the greater use of RJ - even with more taxing options - will necessarily reduce the punitiveness of the overall system.

I've referred to this different approach in my research as "punitive restoration" only to highlight the more taxing nature.

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