Punitive Restoration is a better way to reduce reoffending and improve public confidence, says Durham University expert

Punitive Restoration is a better way to reduce reoffending and improve public confidence, says Durham University expert

(9 May 2013)

Punitive restoration is a new model that might reduce reoffending and improve public confidence benefitting victims and offenders at lower cost to taxpayers.

Research conducted by Dr Thom Brooks from Durham University into punishment and sentencing highlights urgent reforms including greater use of restorative justice and improving offender programmes in prisons. Dr Brooks says: “Public confidence in offender punishment can be improved by providing victims with a greater voice in sentencing decisions and expanding the powers of restorative conferences to target better the specific needs of stakeholders: victims, the public and offenders.”

Restorative conferences have been used as an alternative to criminal trials. Victims, offenders and community members engage in a constructive dialogue facilitated by a trained mediator. Offenders must apologise to victims and victims have the opportunity to tell offenders how their crimes have impacted upon them. A contract is agreed that the offender must fulfil or risk more serious future measures. Contracts often require offenders to participate in community pay-back schemes, complete treatment to address any drug and alcohol abuse and provide compensation to victims.

The evidence is that this approach earns higher satisfaction from victims and offenders alike, it is superior at reducing reoffending than alternatives and at reduced costs. Victims report 85% satisfaction rates because many desire to have a voice in proceedings. Crime reduction is improved because contracts are tailored to the needs of local justice and offenders. Cost savings are a product of avoiding the costs of going to trial: one study suggests that £9 is saved for every £1 spent.

The problem is that the use of restorative conferences is generally restricted for youth offenders and less serious crimes. Dr Brooks says: “It should be possible to improve public confidence and victim satisfaction in criminal justice while reducing reoffending and costs if restorative conferences were applicable in more cases. This would benefit victims, the public and offenders.”

Dr Brooks advocates “punitive restoration” where restorative conferences have wider applicability and greater flexibility in outcomes, including powers to determine suspended prison sentences enforceable if offenders fail to satisfy their contracts in full. Restorative conferences are currently unable to impose the threat of prison, but Dr Brooks argues this is a mistake: “It is right that restorative conferences have greater sentencing powers in line with magistrates. This would lead to much greater applicability, reduced offending and improved public confidence. This ‘punitive restoration’ approach would also yield further savings to taxpayers in avoiding the need to conduct further meetings or future trial before offenders are punished for failing to abide by the contractual agreements. Punitive restoration benefits all stakeholders and will lead to more effective criminal justice at reduced costs.”

Dr Thom Brooks is the author of Punishment published by Routledge in November 2012. It was named ‘Book of the Month’ by the European Sociological Association and the book’s contributions to criminal justice policy was named one of the top 100 Big Ideas for the Future in British universities by Research Councils UK.