....The consultative document rightly begins with prevention, and it is important to recognise that the majority of pressures towards crime relate to social factors outside the criminal justice system.  It is also arguable that measures to combat these forms of deprivation (such as poverty, inadequate housing and schools, and so on) should be taken for reasons of social justice, not merely because of their potential for crime reduction.

.... In a school which uses restorative discipline, for example, acts of bullying which could be classed as crimes can generally be dealt with through procedures such as mediation and conferencing.  When an action takes place outside the school context, it may still be appropriate to deal with it as a dispute which can be resolved through mediation.  In such cases it is not uncommon for both parties to be to blame in some way, for example when a child who has been bullied strikes the bully, and it is therefore inappropriate to criminalize one of them.

.... It is proposed that the guiding principle should be that, if an incident cannot be dealt with entirely outside the criminal justice system, there should be consideration at each stage of the process as to whether the case can be diverted out of the system.  The earlier this can be done, the less the labelling and the greater the savings of time and cost.  In a system which recognises the needs of victims, this will include assessment of the suitability of the case for victim-offender mediation.  This can take place at many stages, including final warnings, discontinuance of prosecution, youth restorative disposals (currently being piloted), and as a requirement under youth rehabilitation orders (since 30 November 2009).  It is suggested that this should be routinely considered in all cases where there is an identifiable victim (and even some where there is not, for example in drug-related offences where a family group conference can show the offender the pain he has caused to his own family).

... It is hoped that the report will spell out what restorative justice consists of.  Although there are a number of definitions, it is generally agreed that a fully restorative process is much more than, say, community service, useful though that is.  It would start with acknowledgement by the offender of his or her involvement.  It would focus on victims’ needs, and in particular would give them the opportunity for dialogue with the offender.  Its value lies as much in the process itself as in the outcome, but in addition the offender would be enabled to agree to reparative action, whether towards the victim (compensation or work) or by co-operating with rehabilitative measures.  When it takes the form of a ‘conference’ it brings in family members or supporters of the victim and the offender, who can often contribute to an action plan and even help to implement it.  This is, in the words of the consultative document, ‘involving parents and families in efforts to prevent children’s offending and antisocial behaviour’, it is community-based, and  can provide effective and safe alternatives to custody.(p. 26), and resettlement in the event of a custodial sentence.  A restorative process offers one more advantage:  the offender can speak openly, not defensively, about his or her background, and members of the community present (as participants or mediators) can gain understanding of the pressures that lead to crime.  This could be passed to the agencies responsible for social policy;  but so far this has been done only in isolated instances. 

Read the whole response.