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RJ Week highlights Innovative Practices across the CJS

By Peter Keeling, CJA Policy Officer

This year’s Restorative Justice Week has, once again, highlighted the fantastic work happening across the country to empower victims of crime, strengthen communities and reduce harm. New RJ services have been launched, there have been celebrations of strong local partnership work, and the sector has engaged with important debates about the application of RJ.

But perhaps what is most striking about the activities celebrated during RJ Week is the sheer breadth of restorative practices and approaches that are taking hold in a variety of settings that do not necessitate the traditional meeting of a victim and the person who caused the harm.

The Restorative Justice Council’s Annual Conference – ‘Restorative Justice Beyond the Mainstream’ – saw fascinating presentations by forensic mental health services where restorative practices are being embedded to address a range of harms between staff, patients and victims of crime. There were also discussions about the potential for greater understanding of restorative practices within the legal profession, how to stimulate culture change in restorative policing, and restorative approaches in higher education.

Meanwhile, Remedi’s Showcase Event was a powerful celebration of the extraordinary range of work being carried out by their services, from tackling bullying and domestic abuse to working in prisons and reducing the harm caused by hate crime. Their work in facilitating an RJ meeting between MP Jess Philips and the man who hammered her office windows, was covered in the national media.

On the issue of hate crime, Why Me? also published two new papers on the benefits of using RJ to empower victims of hate crime, challenge prejudice, and heal the harms of these serious crimes. They make clear recommendations for local policy makers and police forces on how to embed RJ for hate crime, as well as key asks for national bodies, including the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.

RJ Week’s activities reflect many of the key findings of the CJA’s latest report on RJ and restorative practices – ‘A journey of learning, growth and change’ – which found that not only were a range criminal justice settings embracing restorative practices to address specific harms but that some were also beginning to embed restorative approaches systemically. Over the next few months we will be working with an expert group of our members to develop a briefing showcasing examples of restorative practices and approaches across the CJS. We will also be working in partnership with the British Journal of Community Justice to help produce a special edition on ‘A Restorative Criminal Justice System’ to be published next June.

There is clearly huge appetite for the benefits of RJ and restorative practices across the criminal justice system and in connected services. But while local innovation continues to grow – with the support of local leadership and key RJ champions – the gap between local activity and national strategic focus is growing. The Ministry of Justice’s last RJ Action Plan expired in March 2018 and while there are some signs of better national coordination, including the establishment of a Restorative Hub within HMPPS earlier this year, there is currently no published strategy or action plan for RJ or restorative practices.

With this in mind, the CJA will be calling for the new Government, when it is formed, to establish a cross-departmental working group with the Ministry of Justice and Home Office and produce a new strategy and action plan specifically for RJ and restorative practices operating right across the criminal justice pathway.