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Restorative justice

A process which supports someone who has committed a crime to communicate with the victim, understand the impact of their actions, and find a positive way forward.

Estimated impact on violent crime:

MODERATE

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Tertiary

Setting

  • Community

Themes

  • Another chance

What is it?

Restorative justice is a process which supports the victim of a crime and the person responsible to communicate, repair harm, and find a positive way forward. It focuses on making the person responsible aware of the harm they caused and helps them to make reparations.

Restorative justice has been used in a variety of settings, including schools. However, this summary focuses on the use of restorative justice in a criminal justice context. Restorative justice can take place at any stage of the criminal justice process including after conviction or before a case comes to court, as part of a diversionary process (see our summary on pre-court diversion).

There have been a range of different activities involved in restorative justice interventions.

  • Restorative conferences. This involves a face-to-face meeting between the individual who committed the crime and the victim, led by a trained facilitator. Much of the existing research has focused on restorative justice conferences.
  • Community conferences. A restorative conference which involves several members of the community who have been affected by the crime and may involve more than one perpetrator.
  • Reparations to a victim. The person responsible for the crime might pay financial compensation to the victim or repair an item damaged in an act of vandalism.
  • Indirect mediation. The participants do not meet in person, and messages are passed between them, usually by a trained mediator.

There are several theories to explain why restorative justice could be effective. It could help the person responsible for a crime to understand the harm caused. This might encourage empathy, prosocial behaviour and desistance from offending. Finally, restorative justice could minimise stigma and protect children from potential harms associated with being labelled as an ‘offender’.

Is it effective?

On average, restorative justice has had a moderate impact on preventing crime and violence. The research suggests that restorative justice has reduced reoffending by an average of 13%.

Researchers have tried to establish the conditions where restorative justice is more effective. This analysis involves a small number of studies which include both children and adults and provides very weak evidence. It suggests that restorative justice may have had larger impacts when it is a supplement to, not a substitute for, prosecution. Some research has suggested that restorative justice could be more effective when applied to violent crimes than property crimes, and more serious rather than less serious crimes.

On average, restorative justice has had a moderate impact on preventing crime and violence.

How secure is the evidence?

Our confidence in the headline crime reduction estimate is medium.

The estimate is based on a systematic review and meta-analysis of 21 studies. We did not give this topic the highest security rating because there is a lot of variation in the studies in the review. Some studies suggested that the impact was higher and others suggested it was lower. There were also limitations in the methodology of the systematic review.

We identified one study which took place in the UK and involved children and young people. This study was a randomised control trial of restorative justice conferencing with 165 children and young people who had received a final warning for property or violent offending. Participants in a restorative justice conference were slightly less likely to be reconvicted within two years, compared to children who did not take part.

How can you implement it well?

Six studies provide further information about the implementation of restorative justice in a UK context and suggest the following considerations are likely to be important.

Consider how you will support children to participate

Participating in restorative justice could be a challenging experience. Children might feel anxious about speaking in public or find it hard to articulate their views. Some children might be reluctant to take part if they do not understand why they are being held accountable or insist their innocence. A principle of restorative justice is that participation and apologies should not be forced – the process is only effective if all parties willingly agree to take part.

Use facilitators to encourage participation

The relationship between the children involved and the restorative justice facilitator seems to be central to overcoming barriers to participation. Studies emphasised the importance of facilitators treating children with respect and providing clear guidance and support throughout the process. Some studies suggested that people are more likely to take part in the process when they are approached by a facilitator that is not from the police.

Plan how different agencies will collaborate

Many studies reported that the challenge of communicating between agencies meant that sometimes the full range of restorative justice options were not explored, and data protection concerns meant Youth Offending Teams found it difficult to communicate with children directly. Explicitly planning how the agencies involved work together and share information could prevent some of these difficulties.

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of restorative justice is likely to be low.

Costs are likely to include a trained facilitator and a suitable venue for the meeting to take place. An evaluation of the Youth Restorative Intervention in Surrey found that the police and youth service paid £360 per case to deliver restorative justice. Costs are likely to vary according to the complexity of the case and the involvement of volunteers.

Topic summary

  • Restorative justice is a process where a victim of a crime communicates with the person responsible for the harm to deal with the aftermath, repair harm, and find a positive way forward. It aims to make them aware of the harm they caused and help them to make reparations.
  • The research suggests that on average restorative justice has had a moderate impact on preventing reoffending.
  • Researchers have tried to investigate the conditions where restorative justice might be particularly effective. This analysis is based on a small number of studies and more research is needed here.

Another chance – Diversion from the criminal justice system
The YEF recently launched Another chance – Diversion from the criminal justice system, a funding round focused on diverting children and young people from the criminal justice system. This funding round will evaluate a number of projects involving restorative justice.

Restorative Justice and the Judiciary
An information pack produced by Restorative Justice Council on how the restorative justice process operates in England and Wales, the benefits of restorative justice, and case studies.

Restorative Justice Council, Practitioners Guidebook
A guidebook for practitioners on how to carry out restorative justice and the principles behind it.

What does the Ministry of Justice Research Tell us?
A summary of Ministry of Justice research on restorative justice, prepared by Restorative Justice Council.

Downloads

© 2022 The Youth Endowment Fund Charitable Trust. Registered Charity Number: 1185413.
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