How will we know if we’ve won?

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Author: 
Jon Collins
Date: 
18 May 2015

When it comes to restorative justice, the last parliament saw the government finally put its money where its mouth is and provide some funding to make restorative justice happen. The vast majority of this funding went to PCCs, who were charged with making victim-initiated restorative justice available in their area. The resultant services are now beginning to emerge.

This was a welcome step. Having spent this money, though, the government, as well as PCCs, will in due course be perfectly within their rights to ask what the impact has been. What has happened as a result? Has the funding delivered real change? You would think that, at the very least, the Ministry of Justice will want to see the results before any further funding is provided.

Meanwhile the new probation landscape will see greater scrutiny than ever before on what money is being spent on and to what effect. There may be some latitude while new working models are developed and implemented and the new owners bed in, but in time there will be the need to justify every line in the budget. Funding won't be available for any activity that doesn't have an impact. Restorative justice won’t, and shouldn’t, be immune to that.

Those of us who are confident that restorative justice can deliver should welcome this. Research and experience both tell us that restorative justice, if delivered properly, will work. That being the case, we should be thinking now about how we will be able to prove it when the money runs out and we want to ask for more.

It doesn’t need to be a randomised control trial in every area. Realistically, it won’t be. It’s easier, however, to start measuring what you can now than realise later that you don’t have the information you need. But of all the things that restorative justice can deliver, what should we be measuring? What do we mean when we say that restorative justice ‘works’?

Different measures will matter to different stakeholders. You would expect the Ministry of Justice to be particularly interested in victims’ experiences, given that their funding for restorative justice comes from the victims’ surcharge. PCCs will also want to know, presumably, that the money that they have spent has delivered for victims of crime. The new owners of Community Rehabilitation Companies, with payment by results now the reality, will want to see that the money they are investing is having a measurable impact on reoffending rates.

For me, it will need to be a basket of measures. Every service should be able to demonstrate what restorative activity has taken place. Volume does matter. Victim and offender satisfaction with the process should be measured. And, where possible, reoffending rates should be recorded. Alongside this, the stories of victims and offenders who have been through a restorative process should be systematically captured – they’re a powerful way to illustrate successful outcomes.

Will this be enough? If these services are able to build up sufficient caseloads, and if restorative justice is done well, then it should be. We should be confident that the results that restorative justice can deliver will be enough to persuade commissioners, funders and budget-holders that restorative justice is worth investing in. If they aren’t, then we haven’t done enough. But better to know, surely, than to realise in a couple of years that we’ve missed the opportunity to find out?