Restorative Justice: a Smart Response to Hate Crime

Published: Friday, February 23rd, 2018

The Situation

Hate Crime is on the rise, with a 29% rise in reporting in one year to 80,393 in 2016-17. (Hate Crime England and Wales 2016/17, Home Office). A University of Huddersfield report estimated that more than double that amount go unreported each year.

Hate Crime victims more often feel traumatised by the incident. With 92% emotionally affected, compared to 81% for victims of crime generally. They are also less likely to be satisfied by the police handling of the incident, with only 52% satisfied, compared to 73% for victims of crime generally (Crime Survey for England and Wales 2012-13 & 2014-15).

Our research shows that Hate Crime victims are not currently getting the support that they need. The Criminal Justice System needs new ways of tackling Hate Crime and meeting those needs.

Restorative Justice has the potential to really address the harms caused by Hate Crime. It has the potential to bring the reality of victims’ suffering into focus for Hate Crime offenders. This can break down prejudice and allow offenders to see the humanity in their victim. It also has the potential to allow Hate Crime victims to take back control by telling their story and having their voice heard.

Yet, despite featuring in the Government’s 2012 Hate Crime Strategy, Restorative Justice is not mentioned in current 2016 Strategy, Action Against Hate.

The Evidence

This month, Mark Walters, who is a Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Sussex and co-Director of the International Network for Hate Studies, gave evidence to a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on ‘Hate Crime and its violent consequences’. He expressed firm support for the use of Restorative Justice.

Restorative Justice brings together the offender and the victim of the crime to talk about what happened, what the effect has been and how things could be made better.

Professor Walters described:

“During that meeting, quite often what happens is that the victim will talk about the harms. About what’s happened to them. But also talk about what it’s like to be different in the community. And it’s that dialogical process that enables the offender… to actually hear about what it’s like for them to be different. Hear about the kind of harms that are caused by being anti-Semitic or targeting someone because they’re disabled. And you can then… tailor the form of reparation to what’s actually happened.”

He describes an antisemitism case in which the family affected did not want the offender to litter-pick as part of his community sentence, but instead wanted him to do a study on the effects of the Holocaust on the Jewish people. He was supervised to do this for two weeks and had to present his findings and his reflections to the family. Professor Walters summarises the offender’s reflections: ‘I had actually no idea that being anti-Semitic had this kind of impact. I had no idea that all these people died during the Second World War’.

Then, Professor Walters highlights the impact that this will likely have on the offender in comparison to an extra two weeks in prison or an extra £20 on top of a £50 fine. He says, “If you’re talking about smarter penalties or smarter interventions, Restorative Justice has a lot of potential.”

Professor Walters and colleagues recently conducted a study with 3000 Muslim and LGBT people. 60% said they would prefer Restorative Justice to a longer prison sentence for Hate Crime offenders. (The Sussex Hate Crime Project Final Report).

You can watch the Home Affairs Select Committee session here. Restorative Justice discussed from 16:22:05.

Case Studies

1) John’s story – Homophobia on the bus

“I was able to get a sense of closure by confronting the bus driver in a respectful manner and asking him to take responsibility for his actions. If there is any chance for the bus driver to consider the implications of his actions and possibly even revise his homophobic views, I believe the RJ conference could have provided a starting point… that would not have been reached had we gone down the punitive route”

2) Daniel’s story – Antisemitism in the street

“Coincidentally, we were wearing virtually identical clothes. We both had brown boots, jeans and a puffer jacket on. I pointed this out to Lee, and I think this struck a chord with him. I just happened to have a slightly different belief system to him”

3) Graham’s story – LGBT+phobia in the petrol station

“I actually had a little questionnaire set out too, what I call my five questions. Things like ‘why is your opinion more important than anyone else’s and why should I have to listen to it?”

Access to Justice: Hate Crime and Restorative Justice

Why me? is currently running a project aiming to improve Hate Crime victims’ access to Restorative Justice. Building on the work of academics, we are finding practical ways of improving Hate Crime victims’ access to Restorative Justice.

We are currently working with Lancashire Constabulary and Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office to explore innovative ways to ensure that victims can make an informed choice about their recovery. We are working with local community groups to understand the perceptions of local people, the barriers to Restorative Justice and the considerations that practitioners need to be aware of in order to make Hate Crime RJ truly accessible.

You can get in touch with project lead Ben Andrew at

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