“How serving as a Police & Crime Commissioner opened my eyes to the need for Restorative Justice.”
This is a blog by Why me? Trustee David Munro.
I’m delighted and honoured to be joining Why Me? as a Trustee. My five years as Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey brought home to me in stark detail how criminality can wreck victims’ lives and destroy communities. It’s not just the headline crimes that can cause so much distress and worse – even crimes which are perceived as minor can wreak long-lasting damage. I’m pleased to say that, as Commissioner, I gave victims’ issues high priority during my term, and came to realise that Restorative Justice (RJ) is a key weapon in the fight to help victims and tackle reoffending.
But, as the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group’s excellent report on RJ has demonstrated, there is a good deal more to be done. I hope I can play my part in promoting Restorative Justice in the three areas they identify: access, capacity and awareness.
My experience as a Police and Crime Commissioner made me realise quite how many crimes are committed by those who have offended before. One particular statistic staggered and depressed me: those who are released after a custodial sentence of a year or less have a 60% chance of reoffending in under a year. The message is clear: if we can curb reoffending even a little, crime drops through the floor and all of us will be much, much safer.
Does RJ help in preventing reoffending? The evidence isn’t as strong as it is on the victim support side (where RJ has a proven, rock-solid track record) but is ‘promising’, with one study in 2011 for instance showing a 14% decrease. That doesn’t sound an awful lot, but when compared to the overwhelming number of interventions in the justice system which lead to an increase in repeat offending, it looks to be a real success. A decrease in repeated offending of this size represents hundreds of people who offend in the UK mending their ways every year, and at least that number never becoming victims. There is also some indication that RJ reduces the severity of offending, as well as the amount.
I believe we need more hard evidence though to persuade financially-strapped government departments, police forces, youth offending teams, the prison service and everyone involved in criminal justice, to switch resources into this area in the face of so many other pressures. That won’t come cheap – rigorously-evidence-based, properly-set-up academic studies need decent funding to produce the goods – but the prize is immense. And the best way to continue to demonstrate the benefits of Restorative Justice is to widen its use across the country. Projects which help to expand access to Restorative Justice can benefit people affected by crime, those who have committed it, and wider society.
Why Me?, as one of the leading charities in the field, is well placed to promote, organise and publicise such projects, and I hope can help to do just that.