A new research report by the Restorative Justice Council makes a series of recommendations for both practitioners and policy-makers on how to improve access to, and the experience of, restorative justice for females who have offended.
Through interviews with restorative justice practitioners and with women who have themselves gone through a restorative justice process, the report attempts to address a major gap in our research and knowledge regarding female offenders and restorative justice. Even with a surge in recent years of both theory and practice, there remains a serious lack of evidence around female offenders in restorative justice conferences. Most research to date has focused on male offenders despite the significant evidence base showing that women in the criminal justice system tend to have different offending patterns and complex needs.
Restorative justice can be used at any stage during the criminal justice process, including during imprisonment, but the data indicated that the earlier it is offered the more beneficial it will likely be for all parties. On the other hand, it is also essential to allow for flexibility in the length of time allowed for getting the person ready.
The limited literature that does exist suggests, for reasons that are not yet clear, very low numbers of women get as far as a restorative justice conference.
For the women who do get that far, there are suggestions, again for reasons that are not well understood, that restorative justice may have a stronger impact on women who have offended (particularly when it comes to violent offences). If not well prepared and delivered, however, the restorative justice process risks exacerbating mental health problems for some women.
Overall though, the findings show that restorative justice conferences are generally experienced as positive both by the female offenders who participate, and by the practitioners leading such cases. The findings also suggest that due to the complexity in many of the women’s lives, particular forms of support and partnership-working across multiple agencies may be valuable, not just for the effective and ethical delivery of restorative justice with women who have offended but also in helping women to break away from offending behaviour.
For more info, read the report in full here.