Delivering Restorative Justice Post Lockdown
A blog by Linda Millington – Deputy Director of Why me?
Every month Why me? invites restorative providers and practitioners to exchange knowledge in an interactive forum. Our most recent forum looked at how the easing of lockdown has affected Restorative Justice delivery. The insights shared pointed to a whole host of new considerations practitioners will now have to consider when engaging with service users and preparing for face-to-face conferences.
Due to the onset of social distancing measures, the first lockdown in March 2020 saw referrals decrease, face-to-face meetings indefinitely delayed and prison visits cancelled. The pre-pandemic approach to delivering Restorative Justice was now no longer an option. But, while some wanted to wait until face to face meetings could be run again, for others this wait was also not an option. Therefore, Restorative Justice providers had to find ways to adapt to this new online working environment. Whilst mediation services had already embraced online working, the RJ sector had some concerns. For a sector that relies so much on personal contact, the thought of carrying out Restorative Justice online or by telephone seemed impossible. How could all of the usual due processes inherent to Restorative Justice take place? Was it possible to build relationships, read body language and deal with emotional upset via a screen?
For providers, online delivery, which had initially seemed like an impossible transition, soon began to offer advantages. Communication became a lot easier from a practical perspective, with speaking to participants as simple as a phone call or video meeting. There was no travelling across the country for individual meetings, meaning conversations with participants could happen on a more regular basis. Online Restorative Justice was also found to be beneficial where the participants were in an existing relationship, for example, young people and their families, residents in residential placements or even work colleagues.
Why me?’s own research into virtual Restorative Justice looked at the additional measures that needed to be put in place to ensure participant safety online. Our research culminated in a Virtual Restorative Justice Guide to help practitioners realise the potential of online Restorative Justice and recognise the possible pitfalls that may arise.
One pitfall of online delivery was the greater difficulty in managing practitioners’ workloads. The ability to communicate instantly without having to leave the house, saw some providers overwhelmed with the amount of work they could now fit into their day. This left them with no time to reflect on conversations, as they found themselves having to quickly move onto the next meeting. This reflection time is really important when managing a restorative process, and providers need to ensure that it doesn’t get lost.
It’s been over 18 months since the first lockdown and the sector is more comfortable with online Restorative Justice. With referrals increasing, the new way of working is here to stay to some extent, with practitioners using a mix of online and face to face activities. But the easing of lockdown restrictions brings a whole new set of considerations and risks with it. Venues may insist on participants taking a Covid test prior to a face to face conference raising the question of what happens if one participant is tested positive on the day. This raises the question of how facilitators will be able to effectively manage participants’ expectations about a conference cancelled at very short notice, when anxieties may already be heightened. Is there an opportunity for a participant to assert control over the process if they will only take part if everyone has been vaccinated?
The pandemic has changed the way we deliver Restorative Justice indefinitely and with the expected complete lifting of restrictions on July 19th, there may be even more challenges yet to come.
We would like to thank everyone who attended the Restorative Justice Service Provider Forum for their comments which have contributed to this blog. Our next forum is Tuesday 26 July at 2.00 p.m. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. to secure your place. Keep up to date with all our upcoming events here.