21 November 2023

Ensuring Access to Restorative Justice for Young Adults

Young adults
A group of young people sit and talk to an adult in a support group setting

Lisa Smitherman, Strategic Director of Justice & Education at Catch22, reflects on the findings of Why Me?’s latest report and explores how we can overcome the barriers that prevent young adults from accessing restorative justice.

Both awareness of, and accessibility to, service provision are two vital factors in being able to effectively engage people with a support service. Similarly, misconceptions of what a service is, or does, may impact and limit participation, particularly when working with young adults. The recent report published by Why Me?, which looks at the barriers to Restorative Justice (RJ) for young people, young adults, and victims of crime, highlights some key things to consider when implementing a RJ offering, to expand its reach and ensure its effectiveness. This blog will detail and discuss some of those considerations.

Prison and probation

A lack of awareness of RJ within custodial settings is highlighted in the report. Indeed, many young people and young adults in the custodial estate have never heard of RJ or have misconceptions of what it involves. At Catch22 we found that misconceptions, and a lack of collaboration between prison and probation teams, meant that access to RJ, between the secure estate and the community, can be disjointed. For us, providing a consistent RJ offer first requires the sector to address issues such as limited staffing capacity, clear understanding of the provision, and entitlements and barriers to information sharing.

Although the 2023 MOJ policy framework sets out the responsibilities of HMPPS regarding the provision of RJ, it could go further to drive a streamlined referral mechanism that could be adopted across prisons and probation to provide a more consistent approach. The importance of promoting restorative approaches, across both agencies, is something Catch22 strongly advocates for and recognises through a new pilot, launching in January 2024, at HMP Thameside. The pilot focuses on upskilling staff and prisoners to encourage a restorative environment. Using subject matter expertise within the custodial estate, the aim is to establish a strong understanding of RJ, ensure the most appropriate and effective options are in place, and to connect community provision with the secure estate.

Person-Centred Processes

Secondly, the Why Me? report highlights that although young adults in custody are interested in RJ, when that interest is coupled with the suspicion and distrust of authority that many of them experience, their curiosity alone is not strong enough to drive engagement. To begin to overcome this, it is vital for the RJ offer to be person-centred and showcased to them clearly and transparently. We must ensure that young adults in the justice system understand that RJ works to shift the focus from punishment to rehabilitation and offers an approach to self-transformation that they may not be used to; one which facilitates the development of empathy, responsibility, and accountability. For the young person, RJ directly includes them in the decision making process, giving them a voice that harnesses personal agency and ownership over their actions. With this in mind, the young person must be given the space and support to express any concerns or hesitations at any point in their journey. Enabling them to speak to others with lived experience of RJ, who can champion the process in a way that is transparent, relatable, and constructive, is useful.

Victims’ voice

Consideration of the victim, and the use of their voice throughout the RJ process is paramount in ensuring its success. Doing so helps to ensure that victims’ perspectives, needs, and experiences are respected and regarded throughout. Such inclusion promotes a more holistic and empathetic approach, helping tailor interventions to address the unique impact of harm on each individual and fostering a sense of empowerment and healing. The WhyMe? report highlights the high victim satisfaction rate of RJ, even when victims do not get the outcome they may have initially desired. The report also recommends that professionals provide regular updates, so that communication takes place across all parties. At Catch22, we agree that communication with victims is vital to make restorative justice work well. In fact, we have been working on a project with De Montfort University to capture victim outcomes; particularly those outcomes that are not considered as “traditional” signs of success, such as number of face to face meetings. We recognise that, simply having restorative conversation and communication with an RJ practitioner, regardless of whether or not a conference explicitly takes place, can in itself be a positive outcome for a victim. Keeping victims updated throughout the course of the process and providing holistic, wrap-around support along the way can contribute to feelings of satisfaction with the whole journey, supporting the victims to cope and recover.

To conclude, there is some way to go in ensuring that those young people who are able to benefit from RJ not only to have access to it, but are also encouraged to engage and embrace it. To progress in this space, we should endeavour to improve consistency across custody and community, embed a guarantee that the process remains person-centred, and, finally, establish strong lines of communication, to include a victim voice.