Home Secretary to introduce restorative justice
The Home Secretary David Blunkett plans to introduce ìrestorative justiceî, an approach which has a strong theological precedent, reports the Sunday Times.
The proposals are to be outlined in a consultation paper next month following the success of pilot schemes operated by three English police forces.
The restorative justice approach is voluntary, and is based upon the biblical idea that justice is primarily about making things right, restoring damage that has been done and restitution, before it is about retribution and punishment.
Under such schemes, criminals attend sessions with their victims and an intermediary, often with family members on both sides. The meetings take place after the offenders have been found guilty and the judge may cut their sentence after taking them into account.
The are over 1,000 such Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs (VORP) operating around the world.
Under VORPs offenders generally take meaningful responsibility for their actions by mediating a restitution agreement with the victim, to restore the victims' losses, in whatever ways that may be possible.
Restitution may be monetary or symbolic; it may consist of work for the victim, community service or anything else that creates a sense of justice between the victim and the offender.
The Home Secretary reportedly plans to introduce a form of restorative justice for crimes such as assault, robbery and burglary.
Supporters say the system has reduced re-offending rates in countries where it has been introduced and helps victims to achieve ìclosureî on what are traumatic experiences.
Critics, however, claim the scheme will give criminals an ìeasy optionî to improve their chances of avoiding jail. They accuse Blunkett of favouring restorative justice as a quick fix for reducing the prison population.
Thames Valley police pioneered the use of restorative justice in Britain, originally for minor youth crime.
Peter Neyroud, the chief constable of the force and the criminal justice spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said there had been a ìquiet revolutionî in the past few years using restorative justice with youth offenders. ìItís not a panacea but it appears to produce better results than other alternatives,î he said.
Victims have found the system satisfying and initial indications are that criminals who attend the sessions are less likely to reoffend.
Critics of the scheme believe restorative justice is just a fad which which will do nothing to stop criminals offending and may just be a way of reducing the backlog in the courts.
There are also fears that criminals may fake remorse in front of their victims and the judge to have their sentences reduced.
Norman Brennan, a police officer and director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: ìIf criminals have to say sorry and pretend to mean it to reduce a sentence they will say and do anything.î
ìMost of the criminals Iíve come up against who have committed serious crime donít expect to be caught, have very little fear of the consequences and have an uncaring attitude to the victim.î
One of the first people to undertake restorative justice in Britain was John Carter, 42, of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, who had been jailed for eight years for a violent assault on a woman while he was robbing a pub. The meeting with the woman he attacked ó who had suffered post-traumatic stress ó was highly emotional.
Carter claimed this weekend he had been overwhelmed by a ìfeeling of utter despair that I had gone to that point and done something like that. I didnít have a conscience about what I was doing or who I was affectingî.
He admitted, however, that some prisoners may regard it as an easy ticket to a reduced sentence. ìItís a giant carrot,î he said. ìIf you do go through with it, itís very advantageous towards any parole hearing.î
Others argue that the process of confronting a victim has a chastening impact on a criminal. Sir Charles Pollard, chairman of the Justice Research Consortium, said: ìPeople say this is actually tougher than being in court, where you have someone acting for you and you are not brought face to face with what you have done.î