Restorative justice (RJ) is becoming an important feature within
the UK youth justice system.
It aims to ensure that those with problem or offending behaviour or
both are confronted about, and made responsible for, their actions.
This often involves some form of reparation and apology.
An evaluation1 of a pilot scheme in a residential unit
for young people in Hertfordshire has demonstrated its
In the 10 months following the implementation of RJ, police call
outs to the unit fell by a fifth and the number of recorded
incidents fell by half. However, incidents of recorded violence
increased, although this was almost wholly because of one young
person’s unprecedented violent behaviour during this period.
Interviews carried out with staff and young people before and after
staff training backed the findings of the statistical data. The
predominant view from both groups was that RJ had led to a positive
change in the culture of how problem behaviour was dealt
A big investment in training also seemed to have paid dividends.
Staff judged training to have been good at introducing the concepts
and approaches for use in formal conferences.
However, some staff believed RJ in residential units is more
complex than in other settings. It is perhaps more akin to domestic
conflicts, where there are close ties between the people involved,
rather than those between offenders and victims where the
relationship may be more distant or they may be even unknown to
each other. It was clear that if matters were not dealt with soon
after the event, which would be the result if there were attempts
to set up a formal RJ meeting, the effect of using RJ was
Therefore informal meetings using RJ arranged quickly after the
event were found to be most effective. Also, some young people
reacted better to the informal meetings rather than formal ones,
which could make perpetrator and victim anxious and make it
difficult to engage. Some young people had refused to take part in
Bullying was the most difficult to deal with as it was caught up
with the relationships between the residents. There could also be
negative repercussions for the victim from the perpetrator if the
former had reported the bullying to staff. Creating “closure” for
the victim was seen to be difficult in such situations.
The evaluation appears to show that RJ can be put into place
successfully within residential establishments. The staff and young
people interviewed were generally very positive about it. This
would seem to be partly due to the training, partly due to the
commitment of the head of the unit, and partly due to the
preparedness of the staff to try something new, and persevere with
In future, training and ways of implementation may need to focus
more on the use of RJ techniques that fit the issues arising within
residential units. Outside of such specialist settings, many
perpetrators and victims are not sharing their lives in the way
that is inevitable in units such as these.
Hertfordshire children, schools and families service is developing
a training pack on introducing RJ into children’s residential
units, and will host a conference on this way of working in the
Brian Littlechild is associate head of department of
social, community and health studies, University of Hertfordshire;
Tom Rees is assistant director, Hertfordshire Youth Justice
1 The authors’ report, An
Evaluation of the Implementation of a Restorative Justice Approach
in a Residential Unit for Young People in Hertfordshire, is