Understanding barriers to Restorative Justice for young people, young adults and victims of crime

Published: Friday, March 17th, 2023

This week, Why me? has published our report ‘Understanding barriers to Restorative Justice for young people, young adults and victims of crime‘.

Drawing together findings of Why me?’s three-year youth justice project, through which we conducted a total of seven partnerships, 32 service user interviews, 39 staff members interviews, five focus groups and four restorative circles, the report identifies five key barriers for young people accessing Restorative Justice:

  1. Awareness and misconceptions: Many young people and young adults had never heard of Restorative Justice before and there were a lot of misconceptions about it.
  2. Terminology: When explaining Restorative Justice to young people and young adults, some of the terminology can be confusing, including the term ‘Restorative Justice’ itself.
  3. Provision: Once young people and young adults in particular have been made aware of Restorative Justice and their ability to engage in the process should they wish, there are a lack of formal processes through which they can access the service.
  4. Mistrust of services: One of the key findings from the work focusing on disparities in the uptake of Restorative Justice for young people and young adults from Black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds was the lack of trust in services, particularly regarding the police.
  5. Real-world examples: There is a distinct lack of offenders who offer to discuss their own experience of Restorative Justice.

Based on our findings about the barriers preventing young people from accessing Restorative Justice, we have developed 10 policy recommendations.

On Thursday 16th March we launched our Youth Justice report with a discussion event with report authors Leah Robinson and Dr. Rebecca Banwell-Moore. 

There were three main topics of discussion raised as questions, which this blog will explore:

  1. Use of restorative practices in schools
  2. Timing of making the offer to young people under the remit of Youth Justice Services
  3. Making home visits to victims of crime

Use of restorative practices in schools

Our report details the fact that some young people are aware of the process of Restorative Justice, but may not have an understanding of the term itself. 

For example, when asked to rate their understanding of the word ‘restorative’, one interviewee gave a rating of three or four out of ten, explaining: 

“Someone’s told me a bit about it and yeah but before that I didn’t know too much about it […] basically making up with someone, yeah, finding the middle point with another person and coming to agreement… it’s happened in school but it wasn’t the exact words.” (YP2)

This response highlights the need for consistency in terminology as this participant understood the process but was not familiar with the word ‘restorative’.

One attendee of the event asked what schools are calling the process if not Restorative Justice or restorative practice. Our response, which was confirmed by two ex-teachers, was that it is highly likely that staff are using different terminology when discussing things with colleagues as opposed to students. Therefore, staff will discuss restorative interventions, but will avoid using that language when talking to students. Students will therefore not attribute the process with  the word ‘restorative’, again highlighting the need for consistent terminology. 

Timing of making the offer to young people under the remit of Youth Justice Services


The topic of timing came up frequently within our research, with victims of crime stating that early engagement is the best approach to adopt and some young adults explaining that they needed time to mature before they could have considered engaging in a restorative process.

This is exemplified by one young adult we interviewed in a Young Offender Institution who had declined the offer of Restorative Justice as they thought that they were “a bit young at the time and immature”. However, this young adult explained that if they were offered Restorative Justice now they would like the opportunity to meet their victim face-to-face as “now, obviously, I’ve changed my mindset”. 

The question asked in the event was focused around the appropriate time at which to make the offer of Restorative Justice to young people who are sentenced to court orders or Out Of Court Disposals, particularly when they have shorter sentences. 

Our answer to this question is that the earlier you approach the topic of Restorative Justice, the better. It may be that the young person is not ready to explore it at that stage, but Restorative Justice is not a one-time offer. Therefore, in the same way as the young adults reported that they had time in custody to reflect on their offence and mature, victim empathy and awareness work can be conducted with the young person in the meantime. Once the staff member feels they are at a stage at which Restorative Justice could be explored again, they can test the waters using the Virtual Conferencing Method. This could then lead to another offer being made and perhaps a restorative intervention.

Making home visits to victims of crime

One of the main findings from the victim interviews was that making the offer is important but more importantly, making the offer during a home visit gave victims the opportunity to find out about Restorative Justice and gave them the time to discuss this offer. 

A question was raised around whether home visits are essential to victim engagement, referencing the impact of COVID-19 and changes in practices since then. Home visits provide a safe, comfortable and open space for victims to feel heard, ask questions and feel secure in their surroundings. This can be extremely beneficial when it comes to discussing Restorative Justice and the harm they have experienced. Therefore, our recommendation would always be to conduct a home visit where possible. This was reiterated by other attendees who discussed their preference for home visits.  

However, if a home visit is not possible or is not wanted by the victim, we would encourage the staff member to try and replicate a safe, open and trusting environment in order to achieve the best outcome from the meeting. 

“The event was very useful- I am certainly going to read the report! It was great to hear the report voiced also, directly from those who did the research. The report and your findings will also be passed on to my colleagues.”

We had 32 people attend the event and 100% of attendees rated their overall satisfaction as 5 out of 5 and would recommend Why me?’s events and services to a friend or colleague. 

“Very relevant, very interesting; we are always looking for ways to improve our restorative offer and this will help.”

We would like to thank all attendees of the event and a particular thanks to Dr. Rebecca Banwell-Moore who co-authored the report. 

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