“Restorative Justice” – whisper it quietly

By Jonathan Bartley
March 1, 2010

…or don’t mention it at all, if you are Gordon Brown.

A big speech today on “crime and anti-social behaviour” but not so much as a hint at anything in the restorative justice field.

In many ways it was predictable. Despite a 75-page Government strategy in 2003, it has been featured in none of Labour's manifestos since 1997, without so much as a name check. The tabloids still see anything restorative as ‘soft’ and Brown’s words need to appear ‘tough’.

But as the Restorative Justice Consortium points out:

“Restorative Justice gives victims the chance to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and to receive an apology. It gives the offenders the chance to understand the real impact of what they’ve done and to do something to repair the harm. Restorative Justice holds offenders to account for what they have done, personally and directly, and helps victims to get on with their lives."

Labour are missing a trick here. RJ has in some projects shown greater satisfaction for victims of crime and a great way of tackling petty crime and anti-social behaviour, cuts in re-offending rates and cost savings, and a decrease in fear of crime (a big theme of Brown's speech today)

The Lib Dems are much bolder, and the Tories are now making noises in that direction, noting the high involvement and satisfaction of victims.

But their failure to mention it, also means that Labour are looking out of touch with what has become common practice in many contexts beyond the justice system. Again, as the Consortium points out:

“Restorative Justice is also being used successfully outside the Criminal Justice System, for example, in schools, workplaces, care homes, health services and communities.”

And of course it will go on without, and despite, political speeches. It's just a shame that in his zeal not to appear 'soft' Brown isn't tough enough to go out and make the case. Think what could be achieved if full political will was put behind it.


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