Fifteen areas in England and Wales were involved in a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) two-year test. Some test areas accepted referrals from May 2012, while for others this was slightly later. Although each area had autonomy to deliver their NJPs according to local need, the scope of offences was defined by the MoJ and included behaviours which were suitable for informal resolution, such as non-criminal activity like anti-social behaviour (ASB) and neighbour disputes. Out-of-scope offences included indictable cases, domestic abuse/domestic violence (DA/DV), hate crime, dishonesty offences, assault, and cases where a more formal out-of-court disposal was required.
...The research took place early on in the NJP test, and analysis of performance management data showed that by the end of September 2013 around 300 cases had been referred to an NJP across the six case study areas, and around 120 cases had resulted in an NJP meeting.
A variety of cases had been referred to the NJPs, including neighbour disputes; young people involved in ASB; graffiti; damage to or theft of public property; abusive language; and street drinking. While out of scope for the NJP test, the suitability of DA/DV and hate crime was questioned across the areas, particularly if an RJ approach was the victim’s preference.
A number of agencies referred cases to the NJPs, primarily the police, local authority and housing providers. Once a referral was deemed suitable, the NJP coordinator (or an administrator) would initially take the lead in contacting the panel users and volunteers to attend the NJP meeting. In some areas panel users were then visited by a volunteer and/or the NJP coordinator to further ascertain the suitability of their case and to provide panel users with additional information. The findings suggest that this was key to helping panel users understand the NJP approach and its possible outcomes.
Panel meeting attendance varied across the areas, and depended on the nature of the case. A volunteer and panel users were essential, but attendees could also include the NJP coordinator, referral agencies, supporters and other observers. Generally areas tried to create an informal atmosphere to put panel users at ease. However, one area opted for a more formal setting to convey a sense of gravitas and to encourage panel users to take it seriously.
Volunteers facilitated panel meetings using scripts. Some staff and volunteers considered it essential to follow the script closely in order to fully adhere to RJ principles. Others felt that sticking too rigidly to the script was a barrier to an open discussion – considered crucial to a successful outcome. It was generally agreed in all the areas that panel users should lead on deciding the resolution arising from the meeting. However there was evidence of some volunteers being more directive in their approach, which was felt to have disengaged panel users in some instances, and could potentially lead to unsuccessful outcomes. The nature and extent of follow-up after the meeting varied from one area to another, from no mechanisms in place to more formal systems where panel users were held to account where appropriate.
...Involving the victim in the process was considered to be a key effect of NJPs, and staff and volunteers hoped to empower communities to resolve their own issues. NJPs were also seen as an opportunity to divert perpetrators away from the criminal justice system. Specific features of NJPs that were felt to underpin successful outcomes were:
- panel user engagement with the NJP approach;
- panel users meeting in a controlled environment facilitated by local volunteers, where they listened to each other’s views before deciding on a resolution; and
- running separate panel meetings where there were multiple perpetrators.
Resolutions included: unpaid work; an apology; an action such as repairing damage to public property; support provision; various restrictions; and financial reparation. Users experienced effects directly related to the resolution alongside wider behavioural and emotional impacts. However, there were instances where panel users were dissatisfied with the outcome of their NJP, particularly if an inappropriate resolution had been agreed.
Effects were identified on others involved in NJPs, such as volunteers and referral agencies, as well as wider organisational effects, in terms of resource and perceived cost efficiencies.
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