This is the final report of the evaluation of South Yorkshire Restorative Justice Programme (SYRJP), undertaken by the Hallam Centre for Community Justice at Sheffield Hallam University.
The SYRJP was developed in partnership between South Yorkshire Police and the Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) with the aim of implementing a county wide model of Restorative Justice (RJ) for use in neighbourhood policing and other community applications. It is aimed at tackling low level crime and anti-social behaviour in neighbourhoods and gives police officers the discretion to use Youth and Adult Restorative disposals as an alternative to prosecution for low level offending behaviour where offenders have no previous convictions, make an admission of guilt and where both offender and victim consent to the RJ process.
The first phase of implementation involved training 1700 front line police officers in the use of RJ disposals and the second phase delivered enhanced training in Restorative conferencing to 160 officers. The third phase is ongoing and has extended RJ into Hate Crime and Integrated Offender Management. Since the inception of the Programme in March 2010 until February 2012 a total of 3,357 RJ interventions have been undertaken across the County.
The evaluation was primarily qualitative and involved: interviews with eight magistrates, 34 victims and 29 offenders and 10 police officers; observation/focus group activities in five community meetings; a survey of police staff, a community survey and two victim surveys. A quantitative element was added during the course of the evaluation and involved analysing the reconviction rates for a cohort of offenders who had received an RJ disposal and a comparator cohort. Findings from these activities are organised around three key themes: The RJ Model; the RJ Process and the Impact of RJ.
The RJ Model currently in operation has changed from the model originally envisaged at the outset of the program. What has emerged is a continuum of approaches which incorporates Street/Instant RJ and RJ conferencing but also includes hybrid approaches which fall somewhere between the two. While there may be advantages to a more flexible and wider application of RJ, this is not without risk, including consistency and clarity of understanding amongst police officers.
Overall, the concept of RJ is well embedded across the force and there were high levels of satisfaction with the relevance of the training and the level of skills it provided. Police officers were generally confident in the use of RJ and the empowering opportunity it provided for professional discretion. Senior level support was strong though issues were raised about levels of understanding amongst custody sergeants/inspectors who are involved in the decisions to use RJ. Use of conferencing is less well embedded and police officers identified a range of structural and cultural barriers which had impeded its use.
Victims are positive about the processes surrounding RJ which were seen as straightforward. Victims felt that communication prior to becoming involved was clear and effective and they were positive about the support they received both during and after the event. Occasions were identified where the RJ process broke down which provide potential pointers for the future development of the programme.
Victims were generally satisfied with the outcome of their involvement with RJ. They reported feeling empowered by their experience of RJ and indicated that it gave them a greater sense of control. Many also indicated that RJ had increased their confidence in the police force and that they felt that RJ had had a positive effect on the offender. There were some encouraging indications that offenders who had received an RJ disposal were less likely to be reconvicted than offenders who had received an alternative disposal. Though the results of the reconviction analysis were not statistically significant, they were close to the 0.1 level that is traditionally used as a guide. The qualitative fieldwork also supported these findings and indicated that RJ had had a significant impact on many of the offenders involved.
The following key recommendations were indicated by the findings of the evaluation:
- Communicating and embedding changes in the model to ensure greater consistency in the application of RJ
- Additional training for inspectors/custody sergeants who make decisions about whether or not to proceed with RJ
- Clarifying and potentially extending the role of PCSOs – for example in the administration of RJ processes, especially relating to RJ conferencing
- Clarifying the role of RJ conferencing and addressing the structural and cultural inhibitors to its use
- Developing a community communications strategy to increase awareness
- Ensuring victim and offender understanding of the RJ process and effective communication throughout.
- Developing guidance for police officers on appropriate compensation for victims
- Clarifying processes relating to follow up and non-compliance.
- Redesigning guidance/processes/paperwork to support the use of RJ with non-crimes
- Refreshing guidance for police officers on the status of RJ disposals in enhanced CRB checks.
- Conducting further reconviction analysis
- Conducting further research into the costs/time taken for restorative conferencing.