Overview of Group 1

Criminal justice agencies and services providing restorative justice services – Overview

Introduction

This overview draws on the individual profiles on this website of six organisations providing restorative justice services. A summary of the nature of the service that they provide and the number of cases are set out in the summary tables for Group 1. Additional information is provided in the table notes on the same page.

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). One service is funded mainly by the Probation Service with partial funding from other sources – Le Chéile Mentoring. The Cornmarket Project is funded by a variety of sources including the Probation Service, HSE and Department of Social Protection.

Target clients

Three organisations work with children: the two State organisations and Le Chéile Mentoring. The Garda Síochána and the Probation Service are charged with doing so under the Children Act 2001. Le Chéile Mentoring works with young people up to age 21 referred by the Probation Service. Four organisations provide restorative justice services to adults: Cornmarket, RJC and RJS, plus the Probation Service (which provides services to both adults and children). 

Source of cases

The vast majority of cases are initiated with reference to offenders and few services provide for or publicise opportunities for initiation by victims. 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, the restorative justice services focus initially on offenders. Garda cases originate from processing of young offenders under the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. Probation cases involving young people arise from court referrals or in supervision of offenders. 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 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. 

Geographical coverage

The remit of the Garda Síochána and the Probation Service restorative justice services is nationwide, although the national coverage is thin based on the number of cases reported to us. The exact geographic distribution of restorative justice cases for both Services is not currently available, but it would appear likely that are many parts of the country with no or very few cases. RJS receives referrals overwhelmingly from courts in Dublin, with some referral from courts in Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, occasional referrals from courts in other areas and a smaller number of self-referrals. RJC receives referrals from courts in Laois, Offaly and Tipperary. Le Chéile Mentoring operates in Clare, North Kerry and Limerick (engaging 31 offenders in its restorative justice service in 2019), while the Cornmarket Project operates in County Wexford (engaging 12 offenders in restorative justice in the three-year period from 2017-2019). These findings show that restorative justice services beyond those provided by the Garda Youth Diversion Programme and the Probation Service are patchy based on the locations in which they are available.

Stage of intervention

The Garda Youth Diversion Programme operates entirely at the pre-court stage and, since a prior decision has been made to divert the child from prosecution, the outcomes of its restorative interventions are not referred to 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 or, in the case of RJS, by the Probation Service as part of offender reports to court. Interventions at the post-sentence stage arise in a small number of adult cases where they are initiated by victims or the court (RJVSU, RJS). The Cornmarket Project accepts referrals at different stages from a variety of 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 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.

Models of restorative justice   

The Garda Síochána has two possibilities for responding restoratively to offending under the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, one which has elements of victim-offender mediation and another that is conferencing. Under Section 26 of the Children Act 2001, victims may be invited to formal cautions and, if they attend, they participate in a discussion. Under Section 29, victims can be invited to participate in conferences of persons concerned with the child’s welfare. The Probation Service provides for ‘family conferences’ for children referred by the courts and ‘restorative conferences’ for children under Probation Service supervision. The Probation Service can also deliver victim-offender mediation, conferences and ‘bespoke interventions’ in cases involving adult offenders. RJS provides reparation programmes (one involving Offender Reparation Panels and one that focuses exclusively on road safety) 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. The Cornmarket Project offers victim-offender mediation and conferencing. For more information on the models of restorative justice used, please see the profile pages of service providers.

Number of cases

The total number of cases reported to us was around 850 in 2019. This figure is indicative of the scale of provision in 2019 but is not definitive as it counts cases under different RJ models, mixes cases completed and cases referred, and in some instances covers more than a single year. It also omits twenty Probation Service cases estimated to have been managed by Probation Officers without involvement of the RJVSU. The RJS and RJC case numbers mostly represent reparation (as well as, in the case of RJS, road safety) programmes rather than victim-offender mediation. The number of cases increased in 2019 year-on-year in the three largest providers – RJS, RJC and the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. Further potential for growth can be seen in the creation of new posts in the Cornmarket Project and RJS in 2020, and in the establishment in the Probation Service of the (RJSVU) in 2018. The Garda Youth Diversion Programme also has potential to grow as its 107 Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs) are trained in restorative justice and mediation, and annual reports from the Diversion Programme show that significantly greater numbers of restorative events occurred in previous years (including an average of 960 cases per year from 2011-2014).   

Offence categories 

None of the six organisations specifically exclude any offence types. In practice, however, the seriousness of the majority of offences is relatively low and many do not have a direct victim. As regards offence category, 25 percent of all cases reported in the mapping exercise involved road traffic offences, 22 percent were drug possession/supply, 16 percent were public disorder, 15 percent were theft/burglary/robbery (mostly theft/shoplifting), 12 percent were violent offences (mostly assault), 5 percent were other property offences (mostly criminal damage) and 5 percent miscellaneous other offences. The six service providers vary as to their categorisation of offences so these figures are approximations. Furthermore, these data represent different reference periods, the inclusion of more than one offence per case in some instances, and an element of estimation in the case of the Garda Síochána. The high proportion of road traffic offences is attributable to the RJS restorative road safety programme. None of the services made specific mention of sexual offences in their annual reports or other materials provided, but the number of sexual offences involving restorative justice is known to be very small. 

Based on the offence data collected from the six providers, we estimate that a third of offences involved a direct victim and two-thirds did not. As above, this estimate is subject to a number of caveats. For example, in the absence of more specific information, our estimate classifies all theft and criminal damage offences as having a direct victim, even though some such offences might not. As such, we may be overstating the proportion of offences with a direct victim. 

Involvement of victims

The number of cases with victim participation in 2019 was 137. Of these, 56 cases (43%) involved direct victim participation and 78 cases (57%) involved indirect victim participation, such as letter writing, receipt of financial reparation or shuttle mediation. No information is available on the number of victims who were invited to participate, but who declined to do so. For reparation programme cases (delivered by RJS, RJC and Le Chéile Mentoring), victims are invited to participate only if this is included in a reparation agreement. Services point out that, even where a victim does not attend (including in reparation models), their views are sought where possible and a strong victim focus is maintained in discussion and actions agreed by offenders. 

We estimated (above) that about a third of cases involved a direct victim. This suggests that about 280 cases potentially involved direct victims and thus that victims actually took part in 49 percent of the cases where this could plausibly have happened.

Staffing 

Five organisations have staff dedicated entirely 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 five staff members, while RJS has six full-time and one part-time staff members, plus a caseworker who works on an occasional basis. The RJVSU in the Probation Service has three dedicated staff who provide support and guidance to Probation Officers in delivering restorative interventions as part of their overall workload. 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 those 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 direct or indirect victim-offender mediation.

Personnel training

The Cornmarket Project staff member is a trained restorative justice facilitator with additional specialist training. Members of the Cornmarket team have undertaken on-line 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 are IIRP-approved trainers. As regards the Probation Service, YPP 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 full-time caseworkers undertake externally-provided mediation training; the training for its staff, volunteers, Gardaí and Probation Officers involved in the reparation programme comprises 25 hours of in-house introductory training, as well as shadowing, practice support and supervision. Staff in a number of services have additional third-level qualifications in restorative practice or mediation (such as from Ulster University and Maynooth University) and training in restorative justice.

Quality of data   

The data available for this first mapping of restorative justice services gives a good indication of the availability and extent of operation of services, but its limitations prevent us from presenting a more precise picture. The quality and shortcomings of data varied across services. To facilitate the comparison of data across services and aggregation of data to provide an overall understanding of the scale of provision of RJ services in Ireland, we recommend the following practice developments. 

Calculation of the number of cases would benefit from standard provision across all services of data on both cases referred and cases completed, as well as  a breakdown by referring body, type of RJ model provided, year of intervention and stage of the process at which the intervention took place. Comparative analysis of offences, including identification of those with a direct victim, would be facilitated by use of standardised offence categories and adoption of the principal offence rule by all services. Assessment of the relevance of RJ to cases of very serious offending would be enabled by provision of specific data on cases involving such offences. Analysis of victim participation would be improved significantly by provision of standardised information on cases that involved victims, with a distinction between direct and indirect victim involvement, as well as information about invitations to victims which are declined (and the reasons for the decline) and cases where victims views could not be ascertained and reasons why. Examination of case outcomes and community involvement would benefit from systematic collection of relevant data across all services.