Restorative justice: delivering best practice

Restorative Justice

Three of the biggest police forces in the north of England have asked researchers at the University to help them improve the way restorative justice is delivered by frontline officers to the victims of crime and their offenders.

With funding from the College of Policing, Sheffield Law School’s Professor Joanna Shapland and Professor Adam Crawford of the University of Leeds, are investigating how restorative justice is currently delivered and what needs to be done to improve it.

“This is an action research project across three forces – West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, and Humberside Police – which has to be carried out in just 18 months,” said Professor Shapland, whose longitudinal research into the effectiveness of restorative justice has set the national and international political and legislative agenda on this groundbreaking approach over the last decade.

"We know what best practice looks like and we know what victims find helpful. But sometimes police officers, who are under immense pressure in the work they do, find this difficult to implement. Our goal will be to create tools that officers, going out to incidents and working in communities, will find helpful and easy to use to deliver best practice," she added.

In designing these tools Professor Shapland and her team will be able to draw on more than a decade of research into restorative justice. Her seven-year research project for the Ministry of Justice, for instance, provided robust evidence for the effectiveness of the first restorative justice pilot schemes in the UK.

This groundbreaking longitudinal research, which also investigated the scheme’s impact on reoffending rates and its beneficial effect on the victims of crime, played a major part in the Ministry of Justice’s commissioning of sentencing options in England and Wales, and has directly informed legislation, including the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

Professor Shapland's longitudinal research into the effectiveness of restorative justice has set the national and international political and legislative agenda on this groundbreaking approach over the last decade

A documentary film made by researchers at Sheffield has won an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) impact award for its portrayal of how young offenders move away from crime.

Downloaded more than 10,000 times, Road from Crime (watch is below), was made by Professors Stephen Farrall, Shadd Maruna and Fergus McNeill. Their ‘desistance framework model’ has helped shape government policy on offender rehabilitation in England and Wales.

Ian Poree, Director of the Ministry of Justice’s Rehabilitation Programme, agrees: “I can say with confidence that research into desistance from crime has significantly impacted on both policy and operational practice, and is shaping the culture and service delivery models of providers across all aspects of offender services.”

Such is Sheffield’s reputation in this field that it hosted the first international conference on desistance – the output from which will be published in book form in 2016 – drawing thought leaders from across the United States and Europe to the city to explore the future direction of research and policy.

“Our outlook is international,” says Professor Farrall. “We are bringing some of the best brains from around the world to collaborate on developing a deeper understanding of this vitally important aspect of crime reduction policy. By learning from one another, we will be better able to inform policy makers on which desistance approaches work best.”