Young offenders should face victims, says Prison Reform Trust

Restorative justice, where offenders face their victims, has a greater impact on youth reoffending rates than custodial sentencing and satisfies 89% of victims, according to a new report from the Prison Reform Trust.

The prison charity is calling for a restorative youth justice system to be established in England and Wales, after the report – based on evidence from a model used in Northern Ireland – found that only a third (38%) of 10 to 17 year old offenders, who faced their victims, reoffended within a year. This compares with 71% of those given custodial sentences in 2006.

Making Amends: Restorative Youth Justice in Northern Ireland is based on a model implemented in Northern Ireland in 2003, which uses structured meetings called youth conferences, to help both parties (victim and offender) agree upon an action plan for the offender.

Restorative approaches in England and Wales are currently limited to first time and minor offences for young offenders. However, custodial sentences carry the highest youth reoffending rate of all sentences handed out by the courts in England and Wales, with three quarters of children reoffending within a year of release.

“It’s all too easy to say that nothing works with young offenders whereas we can learn from successful work in Northern Ireland that a structured system of restorative justice cuts youth crime and satisfies victims,” said Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust.

“Most people would support the idea of young people having to face up to the harm they have done and working hard to make amends,” she added.

Restorative youth conference action plans can include:

• A written or verbal apology to the victim
• The young offender doing something for the victim or the community
• Prohibiting the young offender from certain activities or certain places
• Payment of compensation to the victim or a charity
• Supervision by a social worker or other responsible adult
• Treatment for alcohol, drug or mental health problems

Restorative justice is now the most researched criminal justice intervention and has been described by charity the Restorative Justice Consortium as “the most effective tool the criminal justice system does not use”.

In June 2008 the Ministry of Justice released its final report into the Home Office Crime Reduction Restorative Justice Trials. The trials found that restorative justice reduced the frequency of reconviction among the adult prison population by an average of 27%. When restorative justice was delivered to offenders prior to release from prison, reconviction was reduced by 33%. When restorative justice was delivered to offenders serving community sentences, reconviction was cut by 55%.

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