Over 400 delegates from the criminal justice, education and social care systems in Surrey and Sussex heard solid proof on Friday 27th June 2014 that a pioneering youth justice initiative launched in Surrey in 2009 is proving an outstanding success.
There has been an amazing 93% fall in young offenders entering the Surrey Criminal Justice System since 2006/2007. The statistics are still coming through, but early figures released at the 4th Restorative Practice Development Day, held at the ACS International School in Egham, show that Restorative Intervention is working for young offenders, their victims and the public purse.
“Youth crime has fallen by half in Surrey in the last five years,” said Ben Byrne, Head of Surrey Youth Support Service. “Over 1,000 young people every year in Surrey now go into adulthood without the stigma of a criminal record. Our data tells us that those who offend are less likely to re-offend if they receive a Youth Restorative Intervention (YRI). As important, victims tell us that their needs are met too.”
He told the delegates they had successfully transformed the system, putting victims at the heart of youth service responses.
“Critically, YRI and restorative approaches that are being undertaken in schools, in care homes, and on the street by police officers, have enabled us to stop spending all our money on managing young people on court orders and have enabled us to re-invest half of all the money we were previously spending on youth justice into preventing homelessness and family breakdown, supporting young people with emotional health issues and critically on supporting young people to develop the skills to become employable.”
The way forward, he continued, is to extend restorative practice to the whole court system, to include 18 year olds and care leavers and ultimately to make restorative justice routinely available in the adult system.
Restorative Justice is currently available to young offenders who admit a minor offence of theft, handling, violence, drugs and criminal damage. They meet the victims of their crimes in a controlled setting and discuss the crime and its effect. These meetings can be turning points in the lives of the young offenders, and are part of the healing process for the victims.
Surrey Assistant Chief Constable Gavin Stephens said: “In 2008, 1,300 young people were put into the Criminal Justice System for the first time. We recognised that this was not the right answer for many young people. Now, restorative intervention is the default when a young person admits guilt for a non-indictable offence. It is certainly not a soft option, as offenders have to take responsibility for their offending very soon after the offence is committed. Coming to terms with the impact their offending has had on victims, often together with reparative work, alongside getting support for underlying problems, is helping us to reduce re-offending.”
David Munro, Chairman of Surrey County Council, said: “The whole aim is to reduce offending and prevent both young children and adults getting into the Criminal Justice System and I am proud of my own county council in leading the way and working so closely with other professionals and organisations to make sure it is firmly embedded into our programme.
“It is not only the cold stark outcomes – fewer people going to prison – that are important. It is also the way in which victims have come to terms more easily with what happened to them. We are publicising and encouraging restorative practice within Surrey County Council. Four Surrey schools are using restorative practice supported by the council. We see this as an important way forward.”
Jeremy Wright, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, sent a message of support to delegates, outlining the ‘huge benefits’ of Restorative Justice for victims and offenders alike. “We have allocated £30m over the next few years and a large part of that is allocated to Police and Crime Commissioners so they can do what they think is most appropriate in their own areas,” he said.
Bill Kerslake, Development Manager, Partnerships and Performance Directorate, for the Youth Justice Board, said: “It is very exciting to have so many delegates to come to a local event. Restorative Justice has taken off around the country and within that, we need to maintain standards and good relationships.”
“Surrey has always been in the front line for Restorative Justice and has always been the area that is out in front of the rest, with a senior management team that is prepared to take risks.”
The conference included a number of challenging workshops covering different aspects of restorative practice. The workshops were led by inspirational restorative practitioners from Monmouthshire, the West Midlands, Thames Valley and Sussex, sharing their experience and best practice.
Since the conference, phone lines to organiser Chris Stevens, Surrey County Council Head of Restorative Practice Development, have been buzzing. “The impact that restorative practice is having in Surrey is encouraging interest in similar restorative practice development elsewhere” he said. “It has had a big impact. They have seen that change can happen.”