....There may, however, be an alternative to despair. This alternative is restorative justice, which involves confronting the perpetrator of a crime with its victim, and having the victim explain the consequences that the crime had.
Restorative justice sounds like a soft option, a way of letting criminals off the hook through an effortless, and essentially costless, apology. Handled in the wrong way, that is no doubt what it can be. But to my surprise, there is some strong statistical evidence that going through restorative justice can have a major reforming effect on criminals.
Prof Lawrence Sherman, Wolfson Professor of Criminology at Cambridge, carried out a rigorous study, funded by the Home Office and evaluated independently, of 850 offenders. Half had agreed to participate in restorative justice – that is, to meet the victims of their crimes; the others were not offered that alternative. Those who went through the restorative justice process committed, on average, 28 per cent fewer crimes over the following two years, as measured by their reconviction rate.
No other intervention comes close to that result. When matched for their criminal pasts, those released from prison and those given community sentences have almost identical reconviction rates, of around 50 per cent – which is about the level among those who are simply cautioned or fined. So for restorative justice to result in a drop in the rate of reconviction of more than 25 per cent is extraordinary. If Prof Sherman's result is all it seems to be, then restorative justice achieves something that no other procedure has: it persuades a significant number of criminals to commit fewer crimes.