Changing policies at the national and international levels

by Ian D. Marder (Socio-legal Studies/Security, Conflict and Justice Pathways, University of Leeds); Founder, Community of Restorative Researchers

My research is in the field of restorative justice (RJ). Broadly speaking, RJ is a type of mediation which focuses on addressing and repairing harms that have been done to individuals, to relationships and to the wider community. It aims to enable those with a stake in an incident or conflict to discuss its causes and impact, and to determine collectively whether there are any outcomes which would help the parties to move forward in a positive way. This process can be used in workplaces, schools, universities and residential care settings. In most countries, however, it is principally used in the criminal justice context, which is my area of research.

My research focuses largely on police involvement in offering and delivering RJ. Typically, they use it to problem-solve neighbourhood conflicts, and to resolve anti-social behaviour and low-level offences. Imagine, for example, the owner of a small shop being offered the chance to speak to a young shoplifter, explain the harm caused by thefts from their store and receive repayment for the goods. In some such cases, the offender might avoid being arrested and cautioned or prosecuted, in exchange for participation in RJ and for completing the agreed outcomes.

Now writing up, I have stayed in regular communication with policymakers and project managers from both of my research sites, who are extremely interested in improving the service they provide. These days, many researchers – myself included – are keenly focused on maximising the safety and effectiveness of RJ in practice. In this regard, the interests of researchers, and of those who design, implement and deliver RJ policies and projects, are largely aligned.

In June 2016, I gave a talk on my research at the European Forum for Restorative Justice’s biannual conference at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. On the basis of this presentation, I was hired as a Scientific Expert by the Council of Europe. My role is to advise the Council’s Working Group for Penological Co-operation. The Working Group, a non-political body composed of criminal justice experts from across the Council of Europe’s member states, has been tasked with revising their existing policies on the use of restorative justice. Their intention is to elaborate on its use in prison and by probation services, where it usually involves much more serious offences. For example, victims of rape, hate crime or the family of a murder victim might be offered the opportunity to meet and ask questions of the offender by their local probation service, or by the prison where an offender is serving their sentence. As you might imagine, the use of RJ with serious offences requires very careful risk assessment, preparation, delivery and follow-up, in order to ensure that it is safe, effective and meeting participants’ needs.

Having presented on some of the key issues in this field to the Working Group earlier this year, my role is now to lead on the policy redrafting process. My recommendations will be debated by the Working Group, before being presented to ministers and parliamentarians from Council of Europe countries for their approval.

International policies of this kind are important for raising awareness about RJ, as well as helping to encourage its development and setting standards for its use. As a Ph.D. student with a keen interest in maximising the impact of my work, I am delighted to be involved in this process. I strongly advise other Ph.D. students to identify the policy implications of their own research, and to communicate these to relevant persons as often as possible. By identifying and emailing those working in our fields, publishing short, informative articles online, and attending and speaking to people at events, we can easily make a significant, positive impact on public policy.

If you are interested or involved in restorative justice, you can join in conversations hosted by the Community of Restorative Researchers by clicking the links below:

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