Criminal justice agencies and services providing restorative justice services – overview
This overview draws on the individual service profiles on this website of six organisations providing restorative justice services. It is an updated version of previous information and shows the position at the start of 2022, including case numbers for 2020. A summary of the nature of the service provided, case numbers and additional information is set out in the summary tables and notes for Group 1. COVID-19 restrictions affected the number of cases in 2020 with most services seeing reductions in restorative justice cases, with the exception of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme.
Nature of organisation
Of the six organisations providing restorative justice services, two are State organisations – the Garda Síochána and the Probation Service. Two services are fully funded by the Probation Service – Restorative Justice in the Community (RJC) and Restorative Justice Services (RJS). The Probation Service mostly funds one service, Le Chéile Mentoring, which also has partial funding from other sources. The Cornmarket Project is funded by a variety of sources including the Probation Service, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Social Protection.
Three organisations work with children: the two State organisations and Le Chéile Mentoring. The Garda Síochána and the Probation Service are responsible for doing so under the Children Act 2001. Le Chéile Mentoring also works with young people up to age 23 (and in some cases 25) referred by the Probation Service. Four organisations provide restorative justice services to adults, namely Cornmarket, RJC, RJS, and the Probation Service (which serves both adult and child clients).
Source of cases
The vast majority of cases are initiated with reference to offenders and few services provide for or publicise opportunities for victim initiation. The Probation Service’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit (RJVSU) accepts requests from victims for restorative interventions in respect of adult offenders known to the Service, and RJS has occasionally delivered cases in response to requests from victims. Apart from these, restorative justice cases stem initially from offenders. Garda cases originate from processing of youth cautions under the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. Probation cases involving young people arise from court referrals or from the supervision of young people. Le Chéile Mentoring cases are referred by the Probation Service and the Garda Síochána, and the vast majority of RJS cases are referred by the courts and, in the case of its Road Safety Programme, the Probation Service. RJC receives all its referrals from the courts. Cornmarket referrals can come from a variety of statutory and voluntary agencies, as well as from families and self-referrals.
The remit of the Garda Síochána and Probation Service restorative justice services is nationwide. The exact geographic distribution of restorative justice cases for both Services in 2020 is not currently available. RJS receives referrals overwhelmingly from courts in County Dublin, with some referrals from courts in Counties Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, occasional referrals from courts elsewhere, and a smaller number of self-referrals. RJC receives referrals from courts in Counties Laois, Offaly and Tipperary. Le Chéile Mentoring operates in Counties Clare and Limerick, while the Cornmarket Project operates in County Wexford.
Stage of intervention
The Garda Youth Diversion Programme operates as a diversion from court. Since the decision to divert the child from prosecution is made before the decision to offer restorative justice, the outcomes of its restorative interventions are not reviewed by the court. Le Chéile Mentoring cases are a mix of diversionary and post-sentence referrals. Young Persons Probation, RJS and RJC cases mostly occur at the pre-sentence stage when requested by the court directly (and can thus be taken into account in sentencing, or, for YPP, in the decision to dismiss the case) or, in the case of RJS’s Road Safety Programme, by the Probation Service. Interventions at the post-sentence stage arise in a small number of adult cases where initiated by victims or courts (RJVSU, RJS). The Cornmarket Project accepts referrals at different stages from various services, including the Probation Service, the Garda Síochána, the courts and self-referrals. Restorative interventions are not available at the pre-court stage for adults (e.g. in the context of Garda adult cautions), at the pre-sentence stage in parts of the country where NGO services are not available and, unless victims self-refer, at the prison and post-release stages. In practice, restorative justice is also subject to limited accessibility at other stages unless a gatekeeper opts to explore or offer it, for which there are no requirements.
Models of restorative justice
The Garda Síochána has two possibilities for responding restoratively to offending under the Garda Youth Diversion Programme: one with elements of victim-offender mediation and another that is conferencing. Under s.26 of the Children Act 2001, victims may be invited to formal cautions and, if they attend, to participate in a discussion. Under s.29, victims can be invited to participate in conferences with persons concerned with the child’s welfare. The Probation Service provides for family conferences for children referred by the courts (s.78, Children Act 2001) and restorative conferences for children under Probation supervision. The Probation Service can also deliver victim-offender mediation, conferences and ‘bespoke interventions’ in cases involving adults under their supervision. RJS provides reparation programmes (one focusing exclusively on road safety offences and one for all other offences) and victim-offender mediation (limited mostly to where it forms part of a reparation agreement). RJC and Le Chéile Mentoring provide reparation programmes, victim-offender mediation and conferencing; Le Chéile Mentoring also provides a victim empathy programme, victim impact panels and a new knife crime pilot. The Cornmarket Project offers victim-offender mediation and conferencing. For more information on the models of restorative justice offered by each service, please see the updated individual service profile pages of these providers.
Number of cases
We estimate that the total number of cases reported to us was 1056 in 2020 (compared with 853 in 2019). This figure is an estimate as it counts cases that use different RJ models, and mixes cases completed with cases referred for different services. The figure is indicative of the scale of provision, therefore, but is not definitive.
The Garda Youth Diversion Programme accounted for more than two-thirds of cases (716, or 68%) reported in 2020. A sharp increase in Garda case numbers (up from 125 in 2019) masked a sharp decrease in the caseloads from other services due to COVID-19. Of the 340 cases delivered by the other five services (down from 728 in 2019), 177 were from RJS, 87 were from RJC, 26 were from Le Chéile, 24 were adult Probation cases, 15 were youth Probation cases, and 11 were from Cornmarket.
Each service retains a significant potential to grow, were restorative justice more widely offered. For example, 8,169 children were referred to the Garda Youth Diversion Programme in 2020, and all 107 Juvenile Liaison Officers are trained in restorative practice and mediation. Indeed, greater numbers of ‘restorative events’ occurred in previous years. YPP delivered no s.78 family conferences in 2020 despite their legislative underpinning, and figures from the Probation Service suggest that it remains rare to offer restorative justice to those persons under its supervision. Equally, case numbers from Cornmarket, RJS, RJC and Le Chéile suggest that referral to these services is the exception rather than the norm.
None of the six organisations specifically excludes any offence type. In practice, however, most cases involve offences of relatively low seriousness, and many do not have a direct victim. We estimate that 20 percent of cases reported involved road traffic offences, 19 percent were drug possession or supply, 19 percent were theft/burglary/robbery (mostly theft/shoplifting), 17 percent were public order, 11 percent were violent offences (mostly assault), 7 percent were other property offences (mostly criminal damage) and 7 percent were miscellaneous other offences. These figures are approximations as the six services vary as to their categorisation of offences, while some include more than one offence per case and others record the principal offence only. The Garda figures involve an element of estimation that assumes the distribution of offences for restorative events is the same as for the Diversion Programme as a whole – the only numerical basis on which to provide an estimate. None of the services specifically mentioned sexual offences in their annual reports or materials provided, but the number of such cases involving restorative justice is known to be small.
Based on these data, we estimate that around 40 percent of offences involved a direct victim and around 60 percent did not. As above, this estimate is subject to a number of caveats. For example, in the absence of specific information, our estimate classifies all theft and criminal damage offences as having a direct victim, even though some such offences might not (e.g. criminal damage to public property). We may be overstating the proportion of cases that had a direct victim as a result.
Involvement of victims
Calculating an overall rate of involvement of victims in restorative justice cases is problematic for several reasons. No information is available in relation to the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. Under the Children Act 2001, Garda restorative events should involve an invitation to victims to participate, but the number of cases in which victims were actually invited, or in which an invited victim accepted or declined an invitation, is not reported. Victim participation for 2020 was not reported by RJS, but, as last year, we provided an estimate (see our summary tables) based on rates of victim participation in direct and indirect models in 2018. Other services reported victims participation numbers, but sometimes did so in relation to referred cases, and other times in relation to completed cases only.
Excluding the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, for which we have no basis on which to estimate levels of victim participation, the number of cases that we estimate had victim participation in 2020 was 89. Of these, 33 cases (37%) involved direct victim participation and 56 cases (63%) involved indirect victim participation, such as shuttle mediation, letter writing or financial reparation. No data are available on the number of victims invited, but who declined to participate. For reparation programme cases (delivered by RJS, RJC and Le Chéile Mentoring), victims are invited to participate if this is included in a reparation agreement. Some services stressed that, even where a direct victim does not participate (including in reparation models), their views are sought where possible and a strong victim focus is maintained in the discussion and in the actions agreed by offenders.
We estimated above that 1056 cases involving restorative justice took place in Ireland in 2020, delivered by six services. We also estimated, based on the offence categories, that 40 percent of these cases had a direct victim. Excluding the 716 Garda cases, we estimate that about 136 of 340 cases had a direct victim who could hypothetically be invited to participate. Given our estimate that victims participated in 89 cases, this suggests that victims participated (directly or indirectly) in about 65 percent of cases where there was a direct victim (89/136), or in about 26 percent of restorative justice cases delivered by a service for which it was possible to estimate victim participation (89/340). Thus, we estimate that direct victim-offender dialogue took place in about 24 percent of cases with a direct victim (33/136) and in about 10 percent of cases where restorative justice was used (33/340).
As regards 2019, we previously estimated that 853 cases involving restorative justice took place in Ireland, delivered by the same six services. We also estimated, based on the offence categories, that 33 percent of cases had a direct victim. Excluding Garda cases (n = 125, leaving 728 cases), we estimated that about 240 cases had a direct victim. Given our estimate that victims participated in 137 cases in 2019, this suggests that victims participated (directly or indirectly) in about 57 percent of cases where there was a direct victim, or in about 19 percent of restorative justice cases delivered by a service for which it was possible to estimate victim participation (137/728). Thus, we estimated that direct victim-offender dialogue took place in about 23 percent of cases with a direct victim (56/240) and in about 8 percent of cases where restorative justice was used (56/728). According to these estimates, victim participation, as a proportion of cases referred which had direct victims, was slightly higher in 2020 than it was in 2019.
Note: the percentages of victim participation in 2019 do not correspond with how we reported the figures upon their initial publication (Jan 2021). We opted to recalculate these percentages to exclude 2019 Garda cases to aid their comparison to the 2020 figures.
Five organisations have staff dedicated to restorative justice. The Cornmarket Project and Le Chéile Mentoring each employ one project worker, with additional part-time resources for supervision and support. RJC has four staff members, while RJS has six full-time and one part-time staff members. The RJVSU in the Probation Service has three dedicated staff. For other services, restorative justice functions are part of frontline staff workload. In the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, for example, 107 JLOs are trained to deliver restorative events, but have many other duties. A similar situation arises in respect of Probation Service staff involved in restorative justice delivery, other than staff in the RJVSU.
Volunteers play a very small part in service delivery that involves victims. Only the Cornmarket Project uses volunteers to facilitate victim-offender contact. Volunteer members of the community are involved as chairs or participants in reparation programmes, side by side with statutory agencies, and in the RJVSU’s ‘bespoke model’, but have no role in facilitating victim-offender dialogue.
The Cornmarket Project staff member is a trained restorative justice facilitator with additional specialist training. Members of the Cornmarket team have undertaken online courses by the European Forum for Restorative Justice, and those involved in the 2017 pilot programme undertook IIRP-accredited facilitator training and a University of Ulster workshop on preparing for restorative justice conferences. JLOs receive, as part of their induction training, 60 hours of mediation training and a 3-day IIRP-accredited facilitation skills training. Le Chéile Mentoring staff undergo training provided by SynRJ and Restorative Now. As regards the Probation Service, Young Persons Probation and RJVSU staff receive IIRP-accredited training in conference facilitation, which is also available to Probation Officers working with adults; additional training in victim-offender mediation and engaging with survivors of sexual violence is also available to all Probation Officers involved in the delivery of RJ. RJC caseworkers are trained restorative justice facilitators. RJS caseworkers undertake externally provided mediation training; in-house training for RJS staff, volunteers, Gardaí and Probation Officers involved in the reparation programme comprises 25 hours of introductory training, as well as shadowing, practice support and supervision. Staff in some services have additional third-level qualifications in restorative practice or mediation (such as from Ulster University and Maynooth University) and/or further training in restorative justice.
Quality of data
The data available for this updated mapping of restorative justice services gives a good indication of the availability and extent of operation of services, but their limitations prevent us from presenting a precise picture. The quality and shortcomings of data varied across services. To enable an overall understanding of the scale of provision of RJ services in Ireland, we recommend a number of changes to data collection that would facilitate comparison of data across services and aggregation of data. Calculation of the overall number of cases would benefit from standardising the data collected across services in terms of referrals, completions, referral bodies, models of RJ used, year of intervention and stage of process. Comparative analysis of offences, including identification of those with a direct victim, requires standardised offence categories and adoption of the principal offence rule by all services. Assessment of the relevance of RJ to cases of serious offending requires the provision of specific data on cases involving such offences. To analyse victim participation, these data should be collected in a standardised way: cases with direct victims, level (direct or different types of indirect) of involvement, number of victims contacted and accepting or declining to participate (as well as reasons for declines), and ascertaining of victims’ views. Examination of case outcomes and community involvement would benefit from systematic collection of relevant data across all services.
For a full analysis of the figures from 2019, please click here.