We are delighted to launch the new website of Restorative Justice: Strategies for Change (RJS4C) Ireland. RJS4C is a cross-European project involving around 40 partners from ten jurisdictions, the goal of which is to refocus European criminal justice systems, agencies, policies and practices around restorative principles and processes. In Ireland, the project involves a Core Group of four persons from the State sector and civil society, and a Stakeholder Group encompassing over 450 persons from across State and non-state bodies, among others, with personal and professional interests in developing restorative justice in Ireland.
This website, funded by the Department of Justice, contributes to several project goals. As per our national strategy, published in June 2019, our Core and Stakeholder Groups work across three primary areas: the accessibility of safe, high quality restorative justice in Ireland; raising knowledge about restorative justice processes and services; and changing cultures through the wider application of restorative principles and practices in criminal justice settings.
To support these goals, with funding from the Department of Justice and considerable support from across our Stakeholder Group, we have published a range of resources on our new website, including:
- The initial findings of a mapping exercise: the Department of Justice funded us to map restorative justice services in Irish criminal justice contexts. Today, we publish the profiles of criminal justice services and agencies that deliver restorative justice or use restorative approaches in their work, and of bodies and networks that support restorative practitioners. We collected quantitative data on the training and use of restorative justice and practices, and qualitative data pertaining to the restorative models used. We also published summaries of these data for each category of service. Please get in touch if you have any information to help us improve this resource; for example, we aim also to collect and aggregate data on independent practitioners’ use of restorative justice.
- Our first tranche of case studies: with funding from the Department of Justice, we are collecting case studies illustrating the use of restorative justice and restorative practices in criminal justice in Ireland. Today, we published 17 cases highlighting the role of non-governmental organisations in providing restorative justice services, as well as a number of innovative examples of restorative practices being applied in criminal justice settings. Later, we will publish further case studies from the Garda Síochána and Probation Service, among others. Again, please continue to get in touch if you have examples of work that may be suitable for publication.
- A dedicated resources section, collating Irish law, policies and reports and linking to multimedia resources, such as videos, podcasts and news articles. Further subsections include publications from our Stakeholder Group pertaining to restorative justice in Ireland and research summaries. If you have any publications you want us to include in that section, please let us know – although it currently only includes work by the Core Members, we will include work from our Stakeholder Group. Similarly, if there were any studies you would like us to summarise, or if you can assist us by summarising a piece of research for the website, please let us know.
- A new blog so that the Stakeholder Group can publish articles relating to restorative justice and restorative practices in Irish criminal justice. Please get in touch if there is something you would like to write about for the website – we want to hear from prospective authors!
Several important learnings emerge from the research described above. The mapping exercise represents the first effort we are aware of to obtain a comprehensive (quantitative and qualitative) picture of the use of restorative justice in Ireland. Based on the data collected, we estimate around 850 cases of restorative justice in criminal justice contexts took place in 2019. This includes by State and non-State organisations, and activities reflecting a range of practice models and occurring at different stages of the criminal justice process. Of these, we estimate around 140 cases involved victims, representing approximately half of the cases in which there was a direct victim (for more information about these figures, including the methods we used to collect the data and their limitations, please see our summaries of the service maps).
The case studies illustrate the different situations in which restorative justice and restorative practices are used in Irish criminal justice. The restorative justice cases we published today were all delivered by NGOs. The cases range from hate crime and violence to property crime and drug possession, and include victim-offender mediation, family conferencing, reparation panels and victim empathy work among the practice models. In addition, the restorative practices cases published today highlight organisational and relational applications of a restorative approach: conflict resolution in community-based organisations, restorative programmes in prisons, and efforts to heal communities or to build trust, relationships and understanding between the Gardaí and specific communities.
These data help us quantify and draw attention to what stakeholders have long known: while restorative justice takes place with all types of cases, including the most serious, the numbers are very small. Services are thin – in that the criminal justice agencies with a national remit deliver only a modest number of cases – and patchy – in that many parts of the country and stages of the justice process do not have a dedicated service. By implication, restorative justice plays only a marginal role in criminal justice in Ireland, and we are some way off from all victims and offenders having the information and the opportunity to determine whether restorative justice is right for them. Moreover, it seems likely that s.7(1)(m) of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, which requires the Gardaí to inform victims about restorative justice services where available, has not been fully implemented.
At the same time, these findings and recent developments give us a solid platform on which to build. Our research and experience of this project point to a range of innovative practices that can be studied and, if deemed effective, scaled up nationwide. Recent policies and reports indicate the high-level acceptance of the benefits of restorative justice across the criminal justice sector. Provisions for restorative justice in the Programme for Government and more recent plans to support victims of sexual violence provide further scope for the Joint Agency partners to invest in restorative justice services. Meanwhile, the momentum around developing restorative practices and cultures across the justice sector is gathering pace. Ireland both can and should be a world leader in this area. Now is the time for action to make that goal a reality.
Dr. Ian D. Marder, Dr. Kieran O’Dwyer, Tim Chapman and Ursula Fernée