Goodbye, and good luck

After more than three years, this will be my last blog post as chief executive of the RJC before I move on to pastures new. It has been an enormous privilege to work for the RJC and to work with and on behalf of our members, supporting them to deliver high quality restorative practice across England and Wales.

During my time at the RJC, much has been achieved in the restorative practice field. In the criminal justice sector, new services have been established, backed by public funding, and restorative justice is arguably more widely available than ever before. Examples of excellent practice have emerged and partnerships have developed in some areas that have embedded restorative justice into the routine operations of the justice system. Some prisons have also started to use restorative practice to manage conflict between prisoners and between prisoners and staff, and it was significant to see this endorsed in the recent prisons White Paper.

In other sectors, progress has also been made. The example set by Leeds Children’s Services, who transformed the quality of their provision in part by embedding a restorative approach into their work, has seen other areas follow suit. Meanwhile, as a result of the recommendations of Sir Martin Narey’s review of children’s residential care, the Department for Education is looking at how restorative practice can be used routinely in children’s homes. Some schools, though not as many as I’d like, are consistently demonstrating the benefits of a whole school model based on restorative principles.

There is, however, still a great deal to do. It is simply not good enough that nearly four years after the Ministry of Justice announced that funding would be delegated to PCCs to make restorative justice available to victims of crime in their areas, there are still parts of the country where there is no restorative service in place. It’s not good enough, either, that fewer than one in twenty victims can recall being offered restorative justice. And it is disappointing that a long-promised Victims’ Law has yet to emerge. When it comes to work with offenders, probation services are in such a mess that, with a few exceptions, little restorative justice is being delivered, while the ongoing crisis in the prison system has made it difficult to consistently deliver any sort of restorative intervention.

It is also far from ideal that so little has been done to better co-ordinate the use of restorative practice in schools, with no clear guidance from central government on how to best implement a restorative approach in a school setting. As a result, schools use it inconsistently and without a clear idea of where it fits into school practice and culture more widely. Too often, good practice is also not shared. This is a missed opportunity.

Finally, my experience at the RJC would suggest that the quality of practice is variable and that poor practice is not nearly as rare as it should be. While there are countless examples of excellent practice, we hear too often about poor practice and mistakes being made that really should be avoided. This is extremely concerning and must be addressed. Our own work setting standards and providing accreditation across sectors is a start, but it is only a partial solution to the problem as long as it remains voluntary.

So, what’s next? I think that the solutions to many of these high-level issues lie in strong political leadership. The Ministry of Justice needs to maintain and strongly publicly restate its support for restorative justice. A new Victims’ Law must contain an entitlement to access a restorative service and a legal duty should be placed on PCCs to provide it. If CRCs are – as widely reported – being bailed out, then this should be leverage to ensure that they deliver on the goals of the Ministry of Justice’s own restorative justice action plan.

At the Department for Education, ministers should play a similar role. In children’s residential care, the first steps have been taken. This now needs to be pursued and its impact properly assessed. For children’s services, a recent evaluation of the work in Leeds needs to be digested and then turned into guidance for children’s services on how best to implement a restorative approach. And in schools, while ministers are not going to prescribe specific interventions or approaches, a public recognition of the benefits of restorative practice would be welcome.

Underpinning all this, a discussion about mandatory standards is now long overdue. There are concerns in the field about mandatory standards stifling innovation and looking to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to service delivery. This is, however, misguided. Standards ensure quality and as restorative practice develops, a guarantee of quality is essential. Starting with the justice sector, I would therefore like to see standards become mandatory for all providers. This should be aligned with work to better support practitioners to develop their skills, ensuring a professionalised workforce delivering high quality restorative practice.

These, I think, are the key next steps. It’s not an attempt at a comprehensive blueprint for the future – I’ll leave that to my successor – but it’s my personal take on what should come next if we want to see restorative practice continue to develop and grow.

Before I finish, though, I would like to take this chance for some thank yous. I have been lucky enough to have worked with fantastic colleagues who have made a real and significant contribution to the work of the RJC and the restorative practice field more generally. There isn’t space here to list them all but I’d like to thank them for their all their support, hard work and commitment.

I would, though, like to single out just two former colleagues, Chris Igoe and Safi Schlicht, aware that I am bound to be forgetting somebody equally important. Chris was an RJC stalwart who taught me how the organisation worked, both literally and figuratively. His advice, support and general thoughtfulness were invaluable and have been much missed.

Safi led our communications work for much of my time at the RJC, and among her many other contributions edited this blog and put up with my haphazard approach to deadlines, questionable use of commas, and penchant for long sentences. Editors are often underappreciated but this blog has been as much her work as mine and she deserves some recognition for that.

I hope that my successor will continue with these blogs and I hope that at least a few of you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. The restorative field is full of interesting, innovative and forward-looking individuals and, with their input, I fully expect to see restorative practice continuing to go from strength to strength.