The possible introduction of restorative justice in mainland Britain promises to spark a furious debate but in Northern Ireland they wonder what the fuss is all about.
It has been a mainstream feature of the youth justice there for seven years. Three quarters of victims choose to meet the young offender face to face and victim satisfaction rates stand at 90 per cent, according to the Northern Ireland Justice Ministry.
Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford told the Belfast Telegraph recently: "The Youth Conferencing system works extremely well in Northern Ireland in challenging young offenders to face up to the emotional and physical consequences of their actions.
"It provides young people with an opportunity to make amends to their victim, and more importantly meets the needs of victims by giving them a say in the process and an opportunity to tell the offender face to face of the traumatic impact that their crime has had on their personal lives.”
In a recently-published report, the UK’s Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti Social Behaviour www.youthcrimecommission.org.uk/ – a charity which ir organised by the Police Foundation www.police-foundation.org.uk
with funding from the Nuffield Trust www.nuffieldfoundation.org/ – cited the Northern Ireland experience as one of the reasons why restorative justice should be applied to youth offending in England and Wales.
The Commission conducted an 18-month study into alternatives to the existing responses to youth crime in England and Wales and concluded that restorative justice meetings, known as ‘youth conferencing’, are the way to deliver better justice for the victims of crime, while cutting re-offending rates and reducing the number of young people who end up in prison.
Said its Chairman, Anthony Salz: ““Our reform proposals are positive and constructive in promoting cost-effective prevention; they are fair to the victims of crime in seeking redress and they are demanding on young offenders who will be made more aware of the human consequences of criminal and antisocial behaviour.
“We are keen to build on the positive aspects of the existing response to youth crime, but determined that interventions and sanctions that are ineffective and wasteful be discarded.
“We need a fresh start to turn round the damaged lives of children and young people who risk becoming our most serious and prolific offenders and to spare society the unacceptably high costs of failure.”
For more background on restorative justice theory, please see the comments under the posting ‘Still re-appearing: the spirit of Alexander Maconochie RN’
Meanwhile, the Restorative Justice Consortium www.restorativejustice.org.uk/? and Victim Support www.victimsupport.org.uk/ have produced a joint report which claims that the introduction of restorative justice in England and Wales for victims of adult offenders would save the Criminal Justice System £185 million over two years by cutting re-offending by 27 per cent.