A landmark report has called for the introduction of restorative justice across England and Wales to halve the current number of juveniles in custody.In the introduction to the document, authors said:
The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour reports that restorative justice in Northern Ireland should provide the model for major changes to the youth justice system.
The commission, which carried out an 18-month study into alternative responses to youth crime, concludes that restorative meetings known as "youth conferencing" are the way to deliver better justice for the victims of crime, while cutting re-offending rates and custody numbers.
Its report, Time for a Fresh Start, estimates the cost of dealing with youth crime and anti-social behaviour as being more than £4bn each year.
It also argues that many millions of pounds are being wasted each year on custody for under-18s with each place costing taxpayers between £69,000 and £193,000 a year, but as many as three out of four young offenders are being re-convicted within a year of completing their sentence.
The commission sets a target for the current use of custody to be halved to fewer than 1,000 young offenders at any one time without adding to crime rates or compromising public safety.
And it urges a significant reinvestment of resources in early intervention to tackle serious anti-social behaviour among children, prevent later offending and save more money for the taxpayer.
We have been impressed by the restorative Youth Conferencing Service introduced in Northern Ireland five years ago and believe that its professionally co-ordinated approach provides a suitable model for England and Wales. Reconviction rates among young offenders involved in restorative justice processes are relatively low and youth conferencing in Northern Ireland has been accompanied by lower use of custody. Approval ratings among victims and all those involved are high. No one there suggests it is in any sense a ‘soft’ or easy option. Young offenders themselves acknowledge just how tough it has been to have to face up to the harm and misery they have caused their victims, their families and the community. Restorative justice is an approach whose time has come, and the results, when professionally managed, speak for themselves.Texas just cut our own juvenile prison population in half, but instead of restorative justice the Lege invested in evidence-based probation programming to supervise those youth in the community. I find it interesting that Britain wants to achieve the same goal using a completely different model. Also notable, with more than double Texas' population, England and Wales incarcerate slightly fewer youth now than Texas does AFTER slashing our own youth prison population in half! But the Independent Commission says their juvie incarceration rate is too high. What do you suppose they'd think about our system?
There has been a great deal of talk about restorative justice in Texas, and a few small programs here and there have been based on the concept. (At TDCJ, for certain offenses victims can choose to engage in mediated discussions with offenders in a restorative-justice inspired program. And when Ronnie Earle was Travis County DA he experimented with restorative justice ideas in juvenile court.) But Texas officials have never come close to embracing the notion on the scale suggested here, as the foundational basis for the entire juvie justice system. This a lengthy report and there's a big stack on my to-read list ahead of it, but the topics coincide with many frequently discussed on this blog and may well interest readers in the juvie arena.