An evaluation of restorative justice conferences delivered for cases of anti-social behaviour (ASB) in the West Midlands was commissioned by the West Midlands Police Crime Commissioner and the Pioneer Group and produced by researchers from the Social Research and Evaluation Unit of Birmingham City University in 2017.
- The highest total cost for the restorative justice approach of £147,666 is well below the estimated cost for the standard approach to ASB cases of £434,386: making a saving of £286,720.
- Taking the lowest cost for the restorative justice approach, £68,895, the saving is £365,491, which works out close to £200,000 per year over the 22 months of the study.
- Restorative justice conferences are quicker and more effective ways of resolving ASB cases. On average, standard ASB cases took 117 days whereas the RJ cases took 27 days.
- Restorative justice conferences have had positive results for the participants in this research.
- Restorative justice is an effective way of establishing communication between neighbours in situations where relationships have broken down.
- There is very little evidence that parties have been more able to address issues themselves without intervention from their housing officers and police officers.
- The main barriers to holding conferences are: 1) logistical, relating to organising a conference; 2) interpersonal issues of the parties concerned; 3) participants’ negative perceptions of the restorative justice process.
- The role of the facilitators is crucial to the success of restorative justice cases. Facilitators must be passionate about the concept of restorative justice: this suggests that restorative justice cannot be implemented by all police officers or housing officers. This will have an impact on the scale of restorative justice.
- There was some anxiety amongst participants that restorative justice agreements are not legally binding and that the issue is not technically resolved.
- Participants were very positive about the way the facilitators had managed the conference. However, they were not always clear about what follow-up might be expected.
- Facilitators are positive about the training they have received but felt there was still development needed. However, the most important support is provided by others on the team and leadership given by the supervisors is regarded as pivotal.
Despite the clear effectiveness and value for money identified by this evaluation, there are eight key recommendations for further development:
- There is a need for continuous, sustainable funding for the service. The current project funding model is regarded as unsatisfactory as it does not allow for longer term planning.
- Restorative justice cases are best managed by a specialist team rather than a wider group of police officers and housing officers.
- Consideration should be given as to whether more time is needed for conference participants to reflect on the agreements reached.
- As it is a developing service, it is clear that Specialist Team members are not always aware of facilities that are available. In particular, they need to be aware of the Birmingham Directory for free and appropriate venues provided by the City Council for customers and of translation services in the five key languages across the region where this is required.
- Clear signposting is required to make conference participants aware of the support structure that is available to them.
- Restorative justice needs to be promoted consistently and sustainably both to professionals and housing customers as an effective initiative to resolve disputes between neighbours. Current work to create and develop a restorative justice website, advertising and promotion through social media is too be encouraged to make the initiative accessible.
- Consideration is needed of how to develop the skill sets of facilitators. In particular, there needs to be a focus on the Restorative Justice Competency Framework.
- A longer term evaluation strategy needs to be developed in order to identify longer term impact on the participants. In particular, data needs to be collected in a way that will support fuller value for money analyses.
A PDF of the report is available here: RJ Evaluation Report