Safety and mitigating risk in Restorative Justice

Published: Friday, June 14th, 2024

This is a blog by our Training and Service Coordinator, Mark Hamill, in collaboration with Professor Joanna Shapland. Joanna Shapland is Edward Bramley Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Sheffield. Her contributions to Restorative Justice have been significant and varied, including directing the national evaluation of Restorative Justice in England & Wales.


Safety is one of the Restorative Justice Council’s principles of restorative practice and is an issue never far from the mind of RJ practitioners throughout the world. Yet, before 2022, very little had been written on the subject. That year saw the publication of a report by Professor Joanna Shapland and others, summarising the key findings of a research project that they had conducted into mitigation and risk in Restorative Justice. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the project’s objectives were to develop a sense of what factors were perceived by facilitators as risky in any Restorative Justice process, how they assessed risks, and what measures they used to prevent and mitigate these risks. The researchers interviewed 30 Restorative Justice facilitators in 11 European jurisdictions.

They found assessing risk in RJ to be a challenge for facilitators, as different people experience risk factors in different ways. The same was true for levels of harm. They observed that facilitators rarely used risk assessment processes or validated tools, relying instead on their professional judgement. Pre-meetings were deemed essential in this process but, unfortunately, they found inconsistency in the use of follow-up meetings. Facilitators dealt well with overcoming language barriers but less well in addressing power imbalances created by ‘supporters’. 

In their recommendations, the researchers favoured ‘checklists’ as memory aids in preference to assessment tools that tend to heighten the level of risk and prevent a restorative process from taking place. They supported the routine use of co-facilitation. In their opinion, the most appropriate assessments were individualised, involved the participants fully, and (with the participants’ consent) sought the views of other professionals known to them.

Whilst the report concludes with the statement that there are occasions where undertaking Restorative Justice is simply too risky, readers are reminded that the risk of not participating may sometimes be greater.  

Click here to read the full report.


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