Restorative justice Contents

2The evidence base for restorative justice

10.The Ministry of Justice explains that it supports victim-focused restorative justice because it has been shown to provide significant benefits to victims, and it has also supported the availability of restorative justice to offenders because of its potential in reducing recidivism.18 There are thus two separate claims: that restorative justice provides benefits for victims and that there are also benefits to offenders in discouraging reoffending. In this chapter we examine both of these claims.

The effectiveness of restorative justice in reducing reoffending

11.A commonly cited claim with regard to restorative justice is that for every £1 spent, the criminal justice system saves £8. The source for this claim arises from a 2008 report by Professor Joanna Shapland.19 One of the schemes considered in that report, run by the Justice Research Consortium (JRC), provided victim-offender conferencing only, across three sites.20 The study found the following value for money results across the JRC sites:

Table 1: Value for money calculations based on reconviction


Money saved for every £1 spent
(rounded to the nearest pound)

JRC London


JRC Northumbria


JRC Thames Valley


Source: Shapland et al, Does restorative justice affect reconviction? Centre for Criminological Research University of Sheffield, 2008, p 64

12.An average across the JRC sites yields a benefit of £8 for every £1 spent.21 The other schemes considered in the Shapland report, which included interventions other than victim-offender conferencing, did not produce value for money in terms of reduced reconviction. It is clear that the £8 figure is primarily as a result of the figure of £14 generated from the London site22, and only applicable to victim-offender conferencing and caution should therefore be taken not to place undue reliance on this figure. Dr Theo Gavrielides of the IARS International Institute argued:

More research needs to be done, looking at the variants of each crime. If we are going to look at theft, let us look at the variants for theft. If we are going to look at murder, let us look at the variants for murder. I still question whether the evidence is there to make a valid argument that restorative justice costs less.23

Brian Dowling, a restorative justice practitioner who was an operational manager of one of the randomised control trial sites for restorative justice, told us that the findings from Shapland were robust but the money savings found are specific to the RCTs and must be considered “ball-park” for crimes that were not included in the trails. He believed restorative justice for cases of murder or domestic violence would be more costly and the savings were “more emotional than material for the criminal justice system.”24

13.The Ministry of Justice’s analysis of this research has suggested that restorative justice conferencing can reduce reoffending by 14%.25 Surrey County Council pointed to their own Youth Restorative Intervention, a restorative informal out of court disposal.26 An independent evaluation of that programme found it provided an 18% reduction in reoffending and saved the wider system £3 for every £1 spent.27 An analysis of ten studies on restorative justice conferencing found that the effect on repeat arrests or convictions varied across the 10 experiments, between a 7% and 45% reduction.28

14.Jon Collins, the Chief Executive of the Restorative Justice Council, claimed that, while the Shapland study “tentatively” found that victim offender conferencing was the best model in terms of victim satisfaction and efficacy, there are nevertheless real benefits from indirect forms of restorative justice.29 A 2007 report by Lawrence and Strang found that, when indirect restorative justice models were put to controlled trials, it had reduced recidivism in both the adult and juvenile system, “but not consistently so”.30

15.The value for money figures provided in the Shapland study relate exclusively to savings to the criminal justice system arising from reduced reconviction. Ray Fishbourne, from Thames Valley Restorative Justice Service, suggested that monetary benefits of restorative justice extend beyond simply reconviction and indeed the criminal justice system itself:

One has to look at the health benefits, particularly to victims, and, I assume—I do not think research has been done—the lesser demands that are made on GPs, counselling, psychotherapeutics and post-trauma stress services. All that stuff is a benefit as a result of restorative justice.31

Benefits to victims

16.Restorative justice trials have consistently shown high victim satisfaction. The evaluation of the pre-sentence RJ pathfinder32 reported that, on a ten-point scale, 77% of participants ranked their experience either nine or ten.33 Professor Shapland’s review of the Home Office schemes found that 85% of victims were ‘very’ or ‘quite’ satisfied with their victim offender conferences.34 Restorative justice has also been found to provide health benefits to victims. A randomised control study found that restorative justice helped alleviate post-traumatic stress symptoms for victims of robbery or burglary35 and Dr Mark Walters argued that restorative justice can have therapeutic benefits for the family members of homicide victims.36

17.Even when a restorative justice process does not take place, witnesses have argued that the experience can nevertheless be a satisfying one for victims. Restorative Cleveland asserted that, even if a victim decides they do not wish to progress with restorative justice, the conversation may have been “positive in assisting the victim in their recovery.”37 Dan Molloy, a restorative justice practice manager from Cumbria and Lancashire CRC, stressed that, if victims are given a choice in engaging in restorative justice, it could be empowering to say no.38

18.We conclude that restorative justice, particularly victim-offender conferencing, has the potential to offer clear and measurable benefits to the criminal justice system and to wider society, but we agree with Dr Gavrielides that arguments relating to the cost-effectiveness of restorative justice are “thin”. In particular undue reliance should not be placed on the claim that £8 is saved for every £1 spent on restorative justice. This is because it arose due to a high performing site within the Home Office trial, applies only to victim-offender conferencing and does not take account of differing levels of cost and effectiveness across different types of offences. These points notwithstanding, there is clear evidence that restorative justice can provide value for money by both reducing reoffending rates and providing tangible benefits to victims.

18 Ministry of Justice, RJU0024, para 1

19 Shapland et al, Does restorative justice affect reconviction? Centre for Criminological Research University of Sheffield, 2008. This report was the fourth in a series of reports on three restorative justice schemes funded by the Home Office in 2001.

20 The sites were London, Northumbria and Thames Valley

21 The total amount in benefits, under “Method 3”, was £9,042,208. The cost for restorative justice group cases was £1,096,722.

22 If one considers only the Northumbria and Thames Valley sites, the figure is £1.6.

24 Mr Brian Dowling, RJU0054

25 Green Paper Evidence Report: Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders, Ministry of Justice. December 2010, para 5.59; Ministry of Justice, RJU0061

26 Surrey County Council, RJU0029

27 Alan Mackie et al, Youth Restorative Intervention Evaluation Final Report, Get the Data, 2014

29 Q7

30 Lawrence W Sherman and Heather Strang, Restorative justice: the evidence, 2007

32 The pre-sentence pathfinder was a 12 to 15 month programme offering pre-sentence restorative justice to victims and offenders in ten Crown Courts in England and Wales

33 Amy Kirby and Jessica Jacobson, Evaluation of the Pre-Sentence RJ Pathfinder, Institute for Criminal Policy Research, 2015

36 Dr Mark Walters, RJU0005

37 Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner and Restorative Cleveland, RJU0033

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

18 August 2016