At just after 17.00 on Thursday the 17th of November 2011 I got a phone call from Inspector Dominic Human of Cambridgeshire Police. Inspector Human is the lead officer for restorative justice in the force, he said he was calling because he understood I had some questions about restorative justice.
I suggested his call was probably prompted by my use of the public speaking slot at the Police Authority Scrutiny Committee on the 12th of September 2011. At that meeting I, and the committee, had been given an assurance by the force that all my requests for increased transparency in relation to the force’s processes for using restorative justice disposals would be met. Specifically the force would update the outdated information on its website and publish its policies on using restorative justice disposals.
I asked if the force had yet fulfilled the commitments made at that meeting. Inspector Human admitted they had not yet done so and the information on the force website was still inadequate and not currently accurate. Inspector Human expressed exasperation and despair with the internal processes within the force for publishing information on the force website. He said: “You’d think it would be a simple process” and said he would keep trying and would again get in touch with the force’s IT staff. (That IT staff are needed to update content on the website is a red flag in itsself). Inspector Human explained that the force’s use of restorative justice disposals had been changing constantly over the last year and the published information had not kept up.
Range of Offences Restorative Justice Disposals May Be Considered For
In February 2011 Cambridgeshire Police began using restorative justice disposals in relation to a very limited set of offences:
- Theft to a value of £50 (except vehicle related).
- Criminal Damage under £100
- Common Assault (non domestic) and S.5 Public Order Act offences.
in June 2011 the Police Authority were told the range of offences had been increased (the additional offences were not specified and member Cllr Wilkins asked for the current framework to be released). At the 12th of September Scrutiny Committee police authority members were told, by Deputy Chief Constable, John Feavyour that any offence could potentially be considered for a restorative justice disposal. This was repeated on a Star Radio podcast by Cambridgeshire Police’s Inspector Sissons who said: “There’s no limit on where it [restorative justice disposal] can be used, its just got to be proportional really”.
Inspector Human told me that his colleagues, including his chief officer had got it wrong, he said that there were limits to where restorative justice can be used within the force. He said that the current list of potentially eligible offences were those listed in the “Gravity Matrix” which I have been sent a copy of in response to an FOI request.
On a specific point, we discussed Cllr Hoy’s question to Cambridgeshire County Council which Inspector Human said he had read. He, unlike the police authority member who answered the question, said that in no circumstances would restorative justice be used in domestic violence cases.
I queried if the framework document was current and complete and if it omitted any “points” system. DCC Feavyour had mentioned a points system when explaining the force’s use of restorative justice to the police authority scrutiny committee. Inspector Human said it was the complete and current document.
Inspector Human explained that the police had for many years been considering the suitability of offences to divert away from the court and there was a document, accepted by the Home Office, titled the “ACPO Guidelines on Case Disposal Gravity – Youth Offenders” (this can be found as an appendix to a policy document on the sussex police website). Cambridgeshire police’s framework document for restorative justice disposals is simply a list of offences from those ACPO Ltd. guidelines graded level “1″ or “2″. This perhaps explains what DCC Feavyour was on about when he talked about a points system to the police authority scrutiny committee, he was referring not to the force’s own restorative justice framework, but the ACPO Ltd. guidance from which it was derived.
Clearly this is great stuff, there’s no point spending time and effort on a problem which has already been solved. Offences had already been ranked in terms of severity and it was possible to use the existing ranking to select offences suitable for restorative justice.
I asked Inspector Human why he thought the police authority had been misled. He said it wasn’t possible for DCC Feavyour to be on top of all the detail. I suggested it might be desirable if Inspector Human got himself invited to one of the police authority meetings, he agreed with me that would be a good idea.
Inspector Human said that he expected restorative justice to be an “add on” to existing disposals which didn’t involve the courts and he didn’t envisage any “business” being taken away from the courts.
This led on to discussing the expected reduction, by a quarter, in the number of people the police are to take into custody. Inspector Human pointed out that the report to the police authority scrutiny committee had said that restorative justice would provide only part of that reduction and was not expected to be the sole factor in the cut.
Inspector Human stressed that the application of restorative justice was not in any way target driven. There are no targets in terms of numbers of RJ disposals, or other factors such as numbers of arrests or time saved.
I asked about how the effectiveness of the experiment was being measured, and if officers were asked to record how long they were spending on RJ disposals. I was told the time spent was not being recorded. I asked how the “one hour” period could be justified and Inspector Human said that was about the time officers were trained to spend on a disposal; he said that within the force they were now using the term “instant reparation” to stress the emphasis on speed.
Inspector Human suggested a key measure of success would be the number of young people entering the criminal justice system; he said there were already indications that the force’s restorative justice disposals approach was reducing this figure.
I asked who gave the approval for use of restorative justice in cases where there was no identifiable victim and the community at large was the victim. Inspector Human said that there had been a case recently of damaged flowerbeds in Wisbech and the police consulted with local councillors, and the councillors gave their consent for a restorative justice disposal to be applied.
Inspector Human revealed another interesting case, of low level public disorder where a police officer is the “victim”. He said then the police officer would decide if a restorative justice disposal was appropriate or not.
What Restorative Justice Disposals Do
Inspector Human said that restorative justice disposals make offenders face up to the effects of their crimes. He said that often offenders justify what they are doing to themselves by imagining their crimes have no consequences. He also stressed the force policy that a restorative justice disposal is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to avoid a criminal record.
He explained one of the problems being solved by the use of restorative justice was that a criminal conviction resulting from a mistake “hangs over someone for ever and a day”.
Evidence of Success Elsewhere
Inspector Human claimed (again in direct contradiction to DCC Feavyour) that Cambridgeshire Police were not breaking new ground with their use of restorative justice disposals and that Greater Manchester Police and Norfolk Police had been using them for some time, with success. He said that data from these areas had been shared via the “NPIA network of best practice” and that the Home Office also held data (unpublished) on the effectiveness of restorative justice disposals.
Turning back to exactly what offences were covered. Inspector Human said the 44 offences in the framework document were those for which restorative justice disposals were now automatically considered. He said that the original exemptions, for domestic assault and vehicle crime remained.
Role of the Police Authority
On the question of if the police authority ought to have been asked to approve the introduction of restorative justice disposals, and then their massive expansion both in use and in types of offences covered, Inspector Human argued the force had been right not to involve them. I argued it was a strategic matter, but Inspector Human claimed that the strategy was “out of court disposal” which had been force policy for quite some time.
Inspector Human said he met the police authority’s “single point of contact” for restorative justice, Ruth Joyce. I explained that Ruth Joyce had been at the police scrutiny committee where a different version of the force policy had been presented to members but she had not said anything about the discrepancy. Inspector Human quite rightly said that he was doing all he could in having the meetings with her. I shared my view that Ruth Joyce is a poor police authority member.
Future Plans for Restorative Justice
Inspector Human told me that in the future the force planned to expand its use of restorative justice to other areas, working with the courts and probation service as well as within prisons. He also said there was consideration being given to setting up neighbourhood resolution panels, something he said Liberal Democrats in Local Government elsewhere had introduced, which involved the “wider community looking at potential sentences”.
Inspector Human said restorative justice was part of a change in policing away from the police turning up and dealing with an incident, to turning up and saying “we’re here to support you, what would you like us to do”.
Inspector Human let me know he was the only Human in Cambridgeshire police and invited me to get in touch with him if necessary.
I said I would continue to push for the publication of more information, and accurate information, about the force’s policies on restorative justice to be published online via the police authority and would seek to highlight the discrepancies between what he, as the person closest to the action, who leads on the subject and trains police officers on restorative justice says the policies are and what the public and those charged with oversight and scrutiny of the police on the police authority are being told.
I was very impressed with Inspector Human and think that as he is the subject matter lead within the police his statements are probably the most accurate reflection of the force policy. I certainly gained a greater understanding of the force’s position from his phone call. What I really want to see next is what the policy is written down on paper, and then to find out how it is being interpreted by police officers on the ground, and how effective it is being at achieving its various aims of time and cost savings as well as reductions in crime and reoffending.
- Greater Manchester Police News Article on Restorative Justice Disposals – In May 2010 – February 2011 they had ~1000 restorative justice disposals. They are only slightly ahead of Cambridgeshire in terms of the start time of this experiment. In Cambridgeshire there were ~500 RJ disposals between February and September 2011. Manchester police serve 2.5 million people, Cambridgeshire covers about 0.4 million people. Cambridgeshire was using restorative justice disposals at a rate of 0.18 disposals per thousand population per month, in Manchester the figure was 0.04 (The rate of use in Cambridgeshire was 4.5 times that of Greater Manchester)
- Home Affairs Select Committee evidence session on Restorative Justice in Norfolk – the data provided does not refer to restorative justice administered by the police avoiding the court system.
- Exercising Discretion: The Gateway to Justice – States “Since 2007, 9,000 Norfolk residents have been involved either as a victim or an offender in the RJ processes (mainly at Tier 1 [Street RJ] ), and 89 per cent of the victims across all tiers were satisfied with the outcome.”