Main practices of restorative justice

Overcrowding creates more pressure on prisons resulting in less care and rehabilitation for the mentally ill. This point was well summarised by Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, "The prison service has taken great strides in suicide prevention in recent years but it is all for naught when the system is on its knees with record overcrowding" (Russell,2008). Crook went on to say "staff and resources are strained to the limit coping with an ever-swelling prison population rife with mental health problems" (Russell,2008). Due to this pressure there is neither space, facilities nor resources to provide prisoners with the training, work and educational opportunities that are required to successfully rehabilitate (Carrabine et al,2004).

There have been 29 child deaths in custody since 1990, most were self inflicted, but one was following restraint. Worryingly, children are 18 times more prone to commit suicide than children of the same age in the community (PRT,2008). According to Angela Greatly, the chief executive of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (SCMH), "too many people with complex mental health needs end up in prison, which is extremely expensive and ineffective in reducing reoffending" (SCMH,2009).

Almost one third of young offenders in custody have identifiable mental health problems, and studies show that they have three times more problems than the general population (NACRO,2007). Improving diversion schemes to keep those with mental illness out of prison could save the government an average of 20,000 per case (Ahmed,2009). A quarter of the young men and a half of the young women in custody have been in care prior to imprisonment, and 90 per cent were excluded from school (HMIP and YJB,2009). Half of the young people in custody have significant learning difficulties, and are typically four to five years below the literacy and numeracy ages they should be at (Newburn,2007). This clearly indicates that young people identified as potential risks need to receive better education, care and treatment at an earlier stage to prevent the further escalation into crime.

The cost of placing a child in a YOI is �50,800 per year (Goldson and Muncie,2006;150), whereas a similar placement in a STC is substantially higher at �164,750 per year, but is far more welfare based and aimed at rehabilitating the young offender, rather than simple containment. The YJB spends nearly two thirds of its budget on the 3 per cent of children in the criminal justice system, in custody, yet custody has shown to be ineffective with historically high reoffending rates. Nearly 80 per cent of 10 to 14- year-olds will reoffend within 12 months of release (Barnardo's,2008), therefore huge savings could be made if the use of custody was reserved for children convicted of violent or repeat offences.

NACRO chief executive Paul McDowell backed the findings of the report on justice reinvestment, "Custody is expensive and overused. Prison resources should be reserved for serious offenders who present a danger to the public" (NACRO,2010). This highlights the concerns that the continued use of imprisonment at the current rate will cause a serious prison crisis. McDowell added, "Our experience shows that investment in prevention and community based projects is a far more effective and financially viable way to reduce crime and protect communities" (NACRO,2010).

A recurrent theme throughout the history of child imprisonment has been the high reoffending rates. Section 37 of the CDA 1998 set out the principal aim of the youth justice system in England and Wales, to prevent offending and reoffending. Yet the consistent failure to reduce offending is inconsistent with such aims and undermines the very principles of imprisonment, as construed by penologist Jerome Miller, "The hard truth is that juvenile penal institutions have minimal impact on crime" (Goldson and Muncie,2006).

The YJB Annual statistics for 2008 indicate some progress with a '2.2% reduction in reoffending since 2002' (Soloman and Garside,2008). If as claimed, 'around half of youth crime is committed by a small minority of prolific offenders', driving up the rate of reconviction would be a desirable outcome (Garside,2004). However, most crime is not the preserve of a small criminal hardcore, and therefore young people are far more likely to be unnecessarily criminalised (Garside,2004).

The PRT has developed a five-year strategy to work with powerful partners, including non-governmental organisations to change government policy. Juliet Lyon, Director of the PRT, said "The goal is to reduce child and youth imprisonment, so that we no longer hold the shameful record of incarcerating more young people than any other country in Western Europe". It is considered that our over reliance on imprisonment is damaging and further excluding a generation of young people already existing at the margins of society. We need to join up social policy with criminal justice policy and stop locking up so many children and young people, through the use of more constructive measures to cut youth crime (PRT,2007). The strategy included ideas such as reviewing and promoting alternatives to custody, and an examination of the social and economic costs of youth imprisonment and alternatives. The strategy also focuses on the consideration of policies and practices of other countries that avoid judicial proceedings and youth imprisonment whenever possible and to prompt the development of alternative, effective models for reform (PRT,2007).

The Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) is the new generic community sentence for young offenders. The order combines all existing sentences and requirements into one simple generic sentence. It is designed to provide clarity and coherence while improving the flexibility of interventions (YJB,2007). Additionally, the YRO will encourage sentencer's to use the robust alternatives to custody where available, and they must now provide a reason if they do not use an alternative to custody (YJB,2007). The effective use of the YRO should help reduce reoffending and contribute to a reduction in the number of young people in custody. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 referred to the requirements under the new YRO, in section 1, establishing the imposition of one or more requirements, such as education, activity attendance and treatment requirements (OPSI).

The Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Program (ISSP) has been introduced by the YJB following evidence that suggested 3% of young offenders were responsible for 25% of all youth crime (YJB,2007). The program is designed to reduce reoffending, tackle the underlying problems that give rise to offending, primarily through education and training and provide reassurance to communities through surveillance. In 2005, the YJB published a report showing that young people on an ISSP commit 39 per cent fewer crimes within two years of starting the programme, and there was a 13 per cent reduction in the seriousness of their offending (YJB,2007).

Restorative justice has been considered an additional measure to custody or as an alternative punishment. Restorative justice has been described by Marshall in 1999 as 'a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future' (Newburn,2007;747). Youth offender panels and restorative conferencing are the main practices of restorative justice.

Youth offender panels were established under the provisions of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 as part of referral orders. They are for 10 to 17 year olds pleading guilty to a first time conviction, lasting between 3 to 12 months. The primary aim of the process is to provide the offender with the opportunity to 'restore the harm caused to the victim, take responsibility for the consequences for their offending and achieve reintegration into the law abiding community' (Goldson and Muncie,2006). The panel decides on an agreed plan of activities to address the young person's offending such as education, treatment or counselling.

The plan also aims to provide reparation to the victim, and is monitored by the YOT. The process has had some success in that 84 per cent of young offenders were happy with the experience and felt they were treated with respect. Victim's also felt they benefited with 75 per cent feeling satisfied at the opportunity to express their feelings and speak directly with the offender. However, the main issue hampering the success of referral orders and offender panels is that only 13 per cent of victims attended (Newburn,2007).