Why me? Responds to Mail on Sunday article, “Khan’s £1.3 million social justice plan helps just ten victims meet offenders.”

Published: Friday, April 5th, 2019

On Sunday, the Mail on Sunday published an article about the Mayor of London’s two-year restorative justice programme, run by Catch 22, called Restore:London. Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Martin Beckford criticised Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, for what he saw as being profligate with £1.3 million of taxpayers’ money.  He noted that just ten face-to-face Restorative Justice meetings had taken place between victims of crime and offenders over a two-year period, as a result of the programme.

What we must remember is that Restorative Justice is a process that is overwhelmingly victim-led, and our own in-house service at Why me? is geared to reflect that.  In over ten years’ experience of working with victims, we have found that they are more likely to ask for restorative justice than the offender. Why? Because they feel let down by the traditional justice system, they seek answers to questions relating to the crime committed against them, and are keen for the offender to make reparations.  These reparations do not just take the form of letters of apology or “saying sorry,” as the Mail on Sunday article put it. In addition to meeting the victims’ needs through providing explanations for their actions, we have seen offenders completing successful stints in rehab, improved engagements with education and direct action to repair damages.

The best outcome of all? A good number of offenders – having seen the true impact of their actions upon the victim – actually desist from a life of crime altogether, after taking part in a successful restorative justice process.  This includes Why me’s patron, Peter Woolf, who in his own estimation had committed “20,000 crimes” before he attacked Islington businessman Will Riley in a burglary at his home. The two took part in a restorative justice conference.  It was so successful that Peter Woolf never re-offended, the two became friends, and Will Riley went on to set up the Why me? Charity in 2009.

The article also quoted Susan Hall, a Conservative member of the London Assembly: “We shouldn’t underestimate the amount of cash that the Mayor has spent on this white elephant – £1.3 million of taxpayers’ money could have put 22 more police officers on our streets to catch crooks and keep Londoners safe.”

Unfortunately, this approach by the GLA member paints an inaccurate picture of what victims want and restorative justice as a whole.

Academic research supports the case for using Restorative Justice. Government research found that 80% of offenders who take part in a restorative justice conference think it will lessen their likelihood of reoffending and that it reduces the frequency of reoffending by 14%. Research in New Zealand found that offenders who had been through restorative justice committed 23% fewer offences over the following 12 months than those who had not.

In March 2015, the RJC commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct research on restorative justice. A nationally representative sample of 1,782 adults was interviewed throughout England and Wales, and it was found that 77% of the public think that victims should have the right to meet their offender. Among victims of crime the figure was even higher, at 83%. 69% of the public think that offenders need to see the real impact of their crimes and face their victims.

The government funded a £7 million, seven-year research programme into restorative justice (2202-7), which found that in a randomised control trial 85% of victims who take part in a restorative justice conference are satisfied with the process and 78% of victims who take part in restorative justice conferences would recommend the experience to others. 90% of victims who take part in a restorative justice conference receive an apology from the offender in their case, compared with only 19% of those who just go through the conventional justice system. Victims who go through restorative justice are 49% less likely to suffer from posttraumatic stress.

Restorative justice can hardly therefore be described as a “white elephant.”  It is therefore a false dichotomy to pit funding for restorative justice against the (crucial) priority of putting more police officers on our streets.

While it may be true that only ten face-to-face meetings have taken place between victims and offenders over a two-year period during the Restore: London programme, face-to-face meetings are only one aspect of the benefits of restorative justice for victims of crime. Victims report great satisfaction from talking about the crime and its impact on them, their families and their communities. Other restorative justice procedures include shuttling (an exchange of letters between victim and offender), and even the use of surrogate offenders in place of the actual offender.  All of this is geared towards the victim’s wishes, comfort and safety – and it goes without saying that the victim’s safety needs are thoroughly risk-assessed by experienced restorative justice facilitators.

Further, the statistics on restorative justice in London do not reflect the qualitative benefits it has for victims.  At Why me?, we have a number of testimonies from victim ambassadors which describe these benefits in detail (Why me? Victim ambassadors’ stories).

We also know that there are a number of practical barriers to delivering restorative justice successfully and at scale.  These include short contracts, problems around giving victims an informed choice, and excessive time taken to establish information sharing agreements and referral routes.

If restorative justice is done well, it is certainly not the “soft option” that it has been portrayed as.  Nor is it a waste of resources. This is borne out in statistics: a comprehensive Ministry of Justice study (2002-7) found that restorative justice reduced the frequency of offending by 14%, and led to £8 in savings to the criminal justice system for every £1 spent on restorative justice.

While there are undoubtedly things that restorative justice providers could learn from the Restore: London experience, we must be mindful of the difference between legitimate criticism and baseless scaremongering.  The latter does absolutely nothing to help victims of crime or reduce re-offending.

© 2020 Why me? Charity no. 1137123. Company no. 6992709.

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