Podcast Episode: Restorative justice
Category: Criminal justice
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
CW - Ciara Webb
MD Restorative justice is a process of dialogue between two parties. In the context of criminal justice social work this will be a victim or person harmed and an offender, one who has caused harm. Statutory criminal justice social work in Edinburgh is a service aimed to reducing reoffending and protecting the public through evidence based interventions. The development of a restorative justice service for those on statutory orders is a new and progressive approach to tackling reoffending. We spoke to Ciara Webb who was the practitioner involved in the service and who has recently completed research on the topic of restorative justice in partnership with the University of Edinburgh. She tells us more about the research and plans for practise.
CW So last year there was extra money come into the Section 27 budget which is what funds Criminal Justice Services, and the money was earmarked for sort of improving responses to certain types of offending so that's where the hate crime post came from, but also how we can sort of reinforce the approaches we have already and how we can do better for victims, because one of the things we're not very good at in statutory criminal justice social work is working with victims. It's not something we actually do very often. I think a lot of the people we work with are victims themselves but they come into our service because they've committed an offence. It's kind of like a duality of personality for somebody and our job ultimately is to address people's offending behaviour and help them get to a point where they are not doing that anymore. Whatever the reasons for the offending are we address those in an effort to prevent further offending. So, there was the Community Justice (Scotland) legislation that came in and there was like a new expectation on us that we do work with victims and we include victim voices and statutory decision making and statutory plans and implementation and one of the things that was banded about was this idea of restorative justice and, you know, could we do something with this? So, my initial post was only for 4 months and the remit was to do a literature review which I ended up extending the time on because my post was then extended by a year, which was great but initially to do a literature review and a bit of a scoping exercise to see if this was something we could implement in statutory criminal justice social work. So that's what I've been doing since December. So, the literature review is in its final edit at the moment and I'd love to see it published somewhere in the next month or so, I've not put a time frame on it but the other side of it is that we actually have got quite far in terms of implementation and planning for implementation within statutory criminal justice social work. So actually, looking at restorative justice is something which compliments all the other work that we do as a service and certainly we would be looking at using it post sentencing as well, so it will be people who are on statutory orders or statutory supervision.
MD Okay, yes. So, what is restorative justice then?
CW I know, what is it? Gosh there's so many different definitions. So, some people there's a European form on restorative justice that have one version. There is a Marshall version from 1996 which is really lengthy, but I think for me about the, like to have something accessible it's about thinking about a dialogue between two parties and for us we're here talking about a victim and an offender and I know those are really laden and really sort of value laden words but I think it really helps to just separate out in our heads what we're talking about quite clearly. So, I think of it as a dialogue between two parties. You've got a party that's been harmed by somebody and the person that's done the harming and the person that's done the harming are the offender in our service, takes responsibility for that offence and wants to make things better for his victim or her victim. So, but they have to do that between each other and they have to do that as part of a transaction and the transaction is the conversation that we would set up for them around the table. There's a couple of really important things. It's not mediation so it's not about trying to find a solution to something or two warring parties, it's a very clear, one person has harmed another person and what we're looking for is them to do some sort of reparation for their offence. And then I think coming from a background of always working with offenders and not doing any work really with victims and really, you know, I mean we've got a domestic violence service that has a partner service so they do work with victims and they've got a children's service so, you know, they're kind of quite a whole, a holistic whole system approach. The only work I had done with victims previously had been through MAPA so if we were contacting a victim prior to an offender being released to make sure that they were safe, you know, but we haven't done anything in terms of sitting down and having two people speak to each other about an event and there's a really interesting, it's kind of become my go to article by Nils Christie from 1977 so it's like, pretty old but really relevant, called Conflicts as Property, you know it's a great article. I would totally recommend everybody read it because you know, you kind of have one of those "ah ha" moment when you read it and he speaks about when an offence happens between two people and the person that's the victim has went and reported that and the police kind of take over so the police take ownership of that and then it gets passed to the Procurator Fiscal and it gets passed to the Courts so the State deals with it and the State, you know kind of, the State says, "Here's your punishment, that's it," you know job done, done and dusted and actually Christie speaks about is giving ownership of that offence back to the people who had it in the first place which is the victim and the offender, and restorative justice is one of the ways that we can actually offer that opportunity to people to actually take full, for the offender to take responsibility for what they've done, but also for the victim to have an opportunity to speak to the offender. A lot of, I mean the number one question is, "Why me, why did you pick me?" Having that answered, you know and that can be really powerful for somebody to have that answer. I mean I've done, looked a little bit at the use of restorative justice in sexual and domestic offending because it's quite contentious but I think frequently you would hear the victims of those types of offences are absolutely saying, "Why me?" And you know there's some evidence to say that the women who enter into these restorative justice opportunities with the people who have offended against them do actually get answers and they can sort of move on from that trauma. It has to be really carefully managed though but because of the risks of revictimization and, you know, the ability to manipulate quite often of men who have been involved in domestic and sexual offending. So, you need to be quite skilled to facilitate that kind of work anyway. But I just think it's a great opportunity for doing something a bit different and it's not to say it hasn't been happening in Scotland. There have been restorative justice projects run around the country mainly by SACRO, certainly they used to run a diversion from prosecution restorative justice service in Edinburgh and I think we're going back 10 years I want to say when that was happening and they are still involved in some projects around the country which offers restorative justice, but mainly in youth offending settings rather than adult criminal justice and I should have said that at the beginning, we're absolutely looking at an 18 plus population here as well so, you know, my post is within an adult criminal justice service, so again it's quite, something that's never, I don't really know why it's never taken off, RJ for adult defenders it's. All the monies always went to youth offending so it's quite exciting to be doing something with adults now as well. I think it will be really valuable.
MD That's quite interesting actually that you're saying a lot of money has gone into the youth offending rather than the adult sector.
CW Yes, yes well about 10 years ago there was kind of what was called the Big Bang, it was quoted to me it was like the Big Bang of restorative justice came out and that was when Scottish Government had very much put a lot of money behind bringing restorative justice into youth offending services and making RJ a normal part of that kind of youth offending service and that journey that young people go on if they are unfortunate enough to be in contact with that service and I think it's all sort of got lost over the years. There was, partly it's staffing issues and certainly in Edinburgh back at the time whenever, you know if we go back 10 or 12 years there was lots of staff on secondment to the service so they went on secondment and left and went back to their substantive posts so that sort of got lost. It does happen though. There was actually as recently as December of last year within Youth Offence Services, now called Young Peoples' Services in Edinburgh, there was actually a restorative justice conference which I'd heard went really well.
MD Good, good.
CW So it does happen here and there but's its not a...it's not a "normal" (in inverted commas) part of the service that's offered to people so I think there's a lot of work we can do to expand that across the city and certainly in Edinburgh they are looking to become a restorative city and to have all of the work that we do as a city, whether that's, you know, within, you know refuse services right up to the Chief Exec's office actually having everybody with an understanding of what being restorative is in terms of that relationship and the acknowledgement and the transactions that you can have with people and having that as a city wide approach. So it feels like there's a lot of momentum at the minute behind not just restorative justice but also starting to, you know, expand the likes of family group conferencing which was a model that came out of New Zealand, which is currently only used in Edinburgh for children who are at risk of being removed from their families or at risk of harm and actually expanding that in to work with adults in health and social care and obviously the sort of the sideways move to criminal justice social work. So, it feels like there's an awful lot of support for restorative practise and restorative justice at the minute so it's quite exciting.
MD It's good, exciting time indeed, yes. And so, in terms of the scope then and the approach to the (... unclear) can you just say a little about that?
CW Yes I horrified one of my, so I'm supervised by Steve Kirkwood and Bill White at the University of Edinburgh and one of the things Vanya and I had been asked to do as part of our knowledge exchange fellowship which is where the sort of the academic support has come from, was to speak to some, I think it was first year sort of generic social services students or social work students. The first thing I said was, "You know I never read anything for about 7 years", and that was the God's honest truth, you know there was part of me, whenever you're in practice and you've got a full case load it's really, really difficult to do more, anything more than a cursory glance of something that you're interested in. You don't have the time to do background reading or, you know, look up other references or kind of take lots of time really on picking an idea or trying to understand something. So, whenever I moved into post the first thing I did was hit the internet and even that compared to whenever I was at University, you know the resources that are online now even in terms of books, like books are online. Quite incredible and even, that was a really big leap for me as a practitioner moving sideways into kind of practitioner research. I mean I felt wholly unprepared for the changes as well because, you know, even when I was a student you were always told never, ever, ever quote from the internet and now actually there's loads of really reliable sources of information on the internet that just didn't exist before. So, I mean we had initially started out with, and had a couple of meetings with Bill and Steve to figure out what the scope of the work was through the Knowledge Exchange Fellowship. I mean we've got full library access which is incredible. You know it's been absolutely superb, and then I've had the opportunity to meet I don't how many people. I've been put in touch with so many people so it's everything from academics, I've met with Procurator Fiscal. I spent an absolutely brilliant day with Sheriff David Mackie up in Alloa and I'll maybe touch on a little bit of his stuff, I'll remember to come back to that. We met with Police Officers who are really particularly interested in restorative justice especially as there are an awful lot of Police Officers who have been trained in restorative justice. I'm not 100 per cent sure that what they've been doing is officially restorative justice because if it doesn't involve the victim it's not really restorative justice so they maybe are doing some, they have a scheme which they call restorative warnings which I think is probably a bit of a misnomer but, you know, certainly there's appetite there to do things a little bit differently, which has been great. You know I've met with like third sector organisations. I literally have a list of people who have contributed to the lit review in one way or another which has just been invaluable and even, you know, visiting the academics as well, Christina Tay who's done an awful lot of work in New Zealand and has done a lot of facilitation herself and I think she is doing her Masters in conflict resolution and I'm sure she's got a PhD proposal in now as well, but just to hear first hand because so much of what is used in the west as in sort of European models of restorative justice a lot of it's based on that original New Zealand family group conference model. So, it's just sort of having that opportunity to see what's happened all over the world as well and there's also been the Scottish University's Inside Institute's series of seminars on this year as well, their restorative justice dialogues. So, there's been opportunities to meet people like Joanna Shapland and Tony Ward and all of these are really quite famous restorative justice and social work people who I've only really read about in books before, you know and then you kind of get to meet them in real life. So, all of that together has kind of, has made up the lit review. The other thing I've been able to do as well is kind of include proposals for how this is going to work in Edinburgh so we've kind of been able to make it quite Edinburgh specific but that's not to say that those models couldn't be used by other local authorities, what are you doing, how are you doing it, how do you think it's going to work? So, it's really nice to sort of have that body of work that we can refer back to, so yes...
MD So what are the main findings then in the literature review?
CW I think the first one is that we don't really do it in Scotland very well. I think for me it was quite incredible to see how much work has went into restorative justice in England and Wales in particular. The Government there seems pretty committed to restorative justice, they've got a plan up until 2018 at the moment. There was a big Home Office funded study which was led by Joanna Shapland which ran to four volumes over seven years or something like that. She was evaluating three projects in England. There's definitely been an awful lot more work done in England and Wales on restorative justice. It seems to just not really got anywhere in Scotland and I don't know if that's because there hasn't been a political will behind it although, you know Justice Secretaries in the past, I'm sure Kenny McAskill has said this is something we should be doing and we need to do, and we're still just not quite there yet and I'm not really sure why that is so it's quite exciting to have this opportunity, but I suppose in terms of findings it depends which point of view you look from in terms of reducing reoffending because obviously as a statutory service our aim is to protect the public and reduce reoffending. Some studies say actually it's negligible in terms of reduction of reoffending but one of the big outcomes is that victims feel better so that's, I think we'll be really looking at that sort of in terms of outcomes, in terms of positive outcomes. You know we're going to be probably asking people, you know, what has been the impact of this for you? Is there been a positive impact or a negative impact rather than maybe finding particular figures to support some of the stuff that we're looking at. So I suppose Northern Ireland has a really, really established model of restorative justice within its youth offending services and they have, I think they were called youth court orders or restorative justice youth orders or something like that which made the outcomes of the restorative justice conference into a legally binding agreement on the part of the offender and they've had, they tell us they've had really good results and I think restorative justice in Northern Ireland's really interesting. They've very much been working with community groups as a means to reduce paramilitary violence on the streets so they've been working with community groups to find alternatives to violence to sort of restore communities after conflict or while they're still going through conflict and they've had some really positive results and there was actually one project that I read about called Northern Ireland Alternatives which is kind of an umbrella organisation and they have a lot of sort of different projects run under that name, and one of those was reporting recidivism rates of somewhere between 7 and 8 per cent, so single digits which is incredible. Other studies would say restorative justice makes no difference whatsoever but because people feel better we think it is better and actually that's ultimately what our aim is as a service. Yes, we would love to reduce reoffending but that's up to an individual at the end of the day. Certainly, one of the things you would like to get out of restorative conference or some sort of restorative justice meeting is an assurance from the offender that they're not going to do this again because that's what the victim generally would like to hear. A lot of victims aren't interested in, you know, financial compensation or anything like that. They want to have an assurance from the offender that it's not going to happen again but I think it's really hard to talk restorative justice in terms of formal outcomes or formal findings from research, especially because I've looked at so many different things across the world as well. Even in Europe, you know, I mean there's differences between, sometimes its part of the penal system. Sometimes if a restorative justice conference has a positive outcome then it ceases to become a criminal matter and moves into the civil courts and it's quite interesting to see how different countries have managed to do different things in different ways.
MD So this is all documented in the review itself...
MD ...about how different countries do it and...
CW Yes and I think, I mean there's been arguments about the New Zealand model being, what's the word, it's not sort of commercialised but certainly there's been, there's incentives attached to it now. I mean it started out as being a model which was led by the Maori and that was how that community was of conflict and there was, it actually came into the New Zealand justice system because so many young Maori people were being imprisoned disproportionately and there was lots of work going on between the Government and the Maori as to how they can actually imprison fewer people and I think since it's come into the main part of the justice system there are concerns that it's maybe lost a little bit of the original value so the original sort of momentum hype and you could say the same thing about Northern Ireland as well, you know, I mean there's always the element of like restorative justice should be voluntary as well and if people are sort of feeling forced into it and certainly there's a recent piece of research which I need to actually research because I only really found out about it last week, but it was done by a PhD student at the University of Ulster and she has found that quite often in restorative justice conferences in Northern Ireland the victim isn't even present which means that it's not a restorative justice conference at all and it's just... I mean but that's the kind of thing that you need to find out about so that you can figure why is that happening and how do we change it? I mean one of the things in Edinburgh obviously if we can't get victims to attend conferences then it's not restorative justice so we've got a lot of work to do in terms of getting the word out I feel as well. We don't really know what it is or how it might benefit them or how it might benefit communities in terms of sort of repairing those relationships and helping people reintegrate back into their communities. You know certainly for people who are committing serious violent offences that are receiving long prison sentences, they can't just decide, you know I mean if they need accommodated by the Councils whenever they're released, by the local authority, they can't just decide, "Well I'll go to a different local authority", because generally there's supervision arrangements and things like that. They have to go back to the city where they came from. So how do we help people reintegrate better? How do we help them, you know, become part of their communities and make up for what they've done? I think the implications for it are absolutely massive and could be really positive. It doesn't always go well, you know, I mean certain, not every single restorative justice conference that's ever happened has had the outcome that you want and, but I think a lot of them have and, I mean there's a great video by a guy called Peter Wolfe. It's called the Wolf Within and it's kind of stock video now for RJ training but Peter Wolfe he had been raised by his grandparents and he was taught to rob. From he was not age at all he was taught that was how you get what you want, you go and you steal it off somebody, and one day he broke into this guy's house and it happened that the home owner was there and there was a fight and the homeowner was injured and, you know, Peter Wolfe was arrested and charged and this was, you know a life of offending for him. It was no big deal for him to go back into the jail because that was what he was used to. You know there was that sort of institutionalisation but he was offered a restorative conference with his victim and he went to it and, you know, hands up he says himself when I first went I just wasn't interested. I was literally doing this just to get out of my cell and then I started talking to the guy and I mean, I'll not spoil the punchline but Peter Wolfe hasn't offended for more than 15 years. He now works with a victims organisation which was set up by the person he offended against and he was actually in Edinburgh a couple of months ago speaking at one of the (... unclear) dialogues and it was absolutely incredible to hear it from the other side, not just the victim's side but to hear it from an offender who's been through that who really has wanted to make amends for what they've done and it took having a natural face to face conversation with somebody that he had harmed to trigger that recidivism to make sure that he just wasn't going to, he wants to desist, he doesn't want to offend anymore.
MD I think there's a real power in some of this work to prevent reoffending.
CW Absolutely, yes.
MD You know, even if it is, as you're just saying, that people are victims end up feeling a bit better and get their question, "why me?" answered, but I think the value of that potentially is massive.
CW Absolutely. We've got loads of work to do in Edinburgh in terms of preparing people to go into conferences so that's victims and offenders and if there's anybody else that they want to come as well, they all need to be prepared for how, what it is, how it's going to work, you know what are the desired outcomes, what kind of questions do you want to ask? You know so I think there's quite a lot of work to go in in terms of all the people who would be expected to be round the table because actually what we don't want happening is people coming to a conference and feeling like they don't know what's going to happen next, feeling that they don't know what the purpose is or whenever we look at the offender and say, give us you, you know, "can you give us your version of events? Can you tell us what happened that day?" and they shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't know." Because that's not satisfying for victims at all and ultimately we really do want to have some more victim satisfaction coming out of this and offender responsibility. They know what they've done, you know, and need to be prepared to speak about that in a form and I think it must be really difficult for people to come into that kind of environment as well. You know I mean if you're being asked to put your hands up in front of a group of people and take responsibility for what you've done and I think there'll be probably lots of feelings of shame and guilt and, you know, and for the victim they're probably going to feel angry at seeing somebody again or maybe they see them and think, I don't want to do this anymore, and actually that's absolutely fine because restorative justice should be voluntary for all around the table. It's not just about a victim coming voluntarily or an offender coming voluntarily and I think that's something we need to make really clear when we're doing, like when we're implementing this in Edinburgh is that restorative justice is not going to be part of a community pay back order. It's not going to be a licence requirement. It's going to be something, you know if an offender decides they don't want to do it then that's fine, that's their choice, it's always on the table for them to come back to and I suppose if I go back to what I was saying about Sheriff Mackie in his court, so he actually wrote a piece recently for Scottish Justice Matters about his CPO and DTTO reviews and he does them in his jury room and I actually spent a day with him a couple of months back. So he had his custody court in the morning and the usual sort of court setup, he's up on his chair, the offender's down in the dock and, you know, you can see the power imbalance, the deliberate design of a courtroom to show the authority, but then whenever he was doing his reviews, his reviews of orders, he did them in his jury room and everybody sat round the same table and what really struck me was the relationship he had with the people in the orders. He knew their names, he could remember their stories, he knew their backgrounds and they addressed him directly and you could see that transaction between Sheriff Mackie and the person on the order and Sheriff Mackie was invested in these people and you could see that investment in the relationship that they had with each other, but one of the things he speaks about in his article is how he really feels that the person who's missing from around the table, that voice that's missing is the voice of the victim and he has queried whether we could structure community payback reviews to court reviews around a restorative justice conference type format. I mean I think there's pros and cons to it. I suppose one of the things I feel quite strongly about is that the victim should be given an awful lot of power in deciding a venue, a time, a date, you know things that are suitable for them and obviously if you are arranging things through a court that decision still lies with the court and doesn't really fit in with what Christie was speaking about in terms of giving that responsibility and that ownership back to the people involved, but the other side of the coin is actually it's great to have people like Sheriff Mackie who are really interested in progressing the sort of justice and who are open to thinking about how it may fit into the existing justice system. You know we're not going to get any new legislation out of this anytime soon I don't think. There may come a day whenever we have legislation that's similar to the Northern Irish legislation where restorative justice is part of our justice system but I think until that happens we have to be creative with what we've got and again that's why in Edinburgh we're initially looking to pilot restorative justice on people who have been convicted of hate crimes. There's very little literature around that kind of work. We want to create research in Scotland. We want to create evidence for why this works and why this is good, or why it doesn't work. I'd like to think it's going to work but you know you never know until you try and I think that that's really, I think that that's really important. We really want to have, we want to develop and evidence base in Scotland because we don't really have one at the moment, you know it's very, very limited and obviously putting things in the Scottish context under through the Scottish justice system, it's all very well talking about research from England and Wales and Northern Ireland, the places that are closest to us, or talking about what's happening in New Zealand or what happens in Canada or anywhere else in Europe but actually we really want to have something that's based on evidence in Scotland so we can say, "Here's what works in Scotland."
MD What is the plan then in terms of practical work in Edinburgh?
CW Yes, so we are going to have a working group within criminal justice social work to start with. So, I've made proposals in terms of referral processes and all the behind the scenes stuff. How do you decide if somebody's suitable or not? We have had two days of training for about 10 workers from across the city so from across all the different criminal justice services that we provide where the people were trained in restorative justice, what it is, how you would manage a conference. We have a bit of a not a script as such but certainly a format to follow like an aide memoir for people in a conference so that you don't forget to ask anybody anything, especially because we're all new to this. I think a lot of it comes sort of naturally in terms of being a social worker and being able to manage a group or manage a conference or manage an interview, but we're not there to be social workers. If you're facilitating a restorative justice conference one of the skills we need to develop is being able to take a step back and facilitate, not get too involved. It's quite difficult as a social worker because we're so used to helping people do things for themselves rather than allowing people to do things with each other. So yes, we've got a working group coming up and then my colleague (... unclear) and I are planning on piloting restorative justice with people who are on statutory criminal justice orders for hate crime. We've picked hate crime because Vania's done a lot of work on that and we know each other and we work together quite well so we thought it was as good a basis as any to start a project. Aside from that really what we're waiting on is just to have sort of city wide approval on that so the purpose of the working group is to get views from all the different teams across the city. Some people will have great ideas that we just haven't thought of ourselves yet, plus we also want to have buy in from people across the city. We want, you know I think we practise brilliantly in Edinburgh. I think our criminal justice service is well recognised nationwide as a really good service and one where people that we work with get a good service so it's not about trying to change any of that its about giving added value to people that are coming through our service and helping them to be the best person that they can be through trying different things and restorative justice won't be for everybody, you know we accept that. So yes, so really what we're waiting on people to give us cases. We're waiting on people to flag people up to us and say, "This person's been convicted of x, y and z. They're really interested in this idea of restorative justice." That's what we're waiting on. So, what we're looking at, at the moment is everybody who is on a statutory order, all the offenders, will have allocated social workers so they will already have somebody who can prepare them for the conference, who can tell them what to expect, who can support them to the conference if that's what the offender wants. They might not want that and that's fine. In terms of victims we need to do more work there because at the moment we don't have. The victims may have their families to support them. They may have, you know, professionals to support them. They may have, you know, people from the third sector to support them. That's something we'll have to find out when we meet them, and also making sure that like if they do have supporters there, if they do have family members that they understand what the aim is as well and one of the things we've been really clear on as well is that social workers won't facilitate conferences for cases of their own that they hold so it will always be somebody impartial. I do think that particularly looking forward if we do manage to make this work, and I'd love to think, I want to think that we will make it work, is if we are doing work then with people who have been convicted of domestic or sexual offenders. Marie Keenan who is at University College, Dublin has actually said the facilitators, anybody who's facilitating those kinds of conferences need to be really experienced in working with sexual and domestic offenders as well as facilitation because you don't want to have people revictimized. You don't want to have, you know, any manipulation happening through the course of the conference and again as social workers we're well used to and we're trained to work with people who have committed sexual and domestic offences. So, I think we're actually really well placed and I'd love to have our project be a success and be used as an example of why you can and should use social workers for this kind of work. I'd love to see it being brought out into communities. I mean I was chatting to one of our family and household support so that was a combination of household support and community safety teams were merged in Edinburgh about a year ago and they offer a more holistic service to the individual sectors across the city and one of the things, they are actually doing some restorative work in the community at the minute and that's the kind of community safety officers that are taking a lead on that so it's not people who have been convicted but it's people who are putting their hands up and acknowledging to causing, you know, community nuisance or whatever the situation is. So, I'd love to see members of the community then being trained to facilitate these kinds of things. I mean there's loads of residence groups and in Edinburgh there's services or where you've got peer mentors so people who have been through the criminal justice system themselves have come out the other end, made a success of their lives and are actually working alongside the police and social work to help other people in their communities too. So, the long ball plan is to actually get people and communities doing this themselves.
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