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Restorative Justice: What’s next for Scotland?

BLOGS | 26th November 2022

Community Justice Scotland’s Head of Restorative Justice Gemma Fraser looks to the future of the service

When I am asked what is next for restorative justice in Scotland I turn to my team work plan and the challenges we still face.

These are around restorative justice – or RJ – being more widely accepted and in securing the necessary resource for this trauma-responsive approach to obtaining meaningful justice for those harmed by crime and offending.  I sometimes forget to reflect on how far we have come, and the fact we continue to take big steps down a path forged over decades by passionate, driven and creative RJ experts both in Scotland and internationally.

While the current economic and social challenges are real, we must remember that while innovation and transformation may seem difficult in the face of wicked problems, without them we are doomed to simply recover broken systems and fix things in the short term without eyes (and hearts) on longer-term gains.  As I was reminded recently, ‘Two things can be right at the same time’.

We must save our justice system and the people within it, but we must also renew and transform justice for those who experience it.

With that in mind, we will now seek to better embed RJ within the core workstreams of the vision for justice strategy in Scotland as a ‘person-centred and trauma-informed’ approach.  In the first half of 2023 this will mean a policy and practice framework to underpin RJ as a parallel process to our criminal and community justice systems.  This will be collaborative to answer questions on how, when and where RJ can be accessed. It will also ensure the voices of those affected by harm are present and reflected in policies as well as the design and implementation of Sheriffdom-based RJ services.  To further support this, Community Justice Scotland will undertake a research project to assess how RJ services can best meet the needs of those who experience harm with a view to tailoring the requirements to services provided.

We continue to work within the Lothian and Borders Sheriffdom area to understand from stakeholders how referrals could be made to a restorative justice service both from individuals themselves and from professionals.  We have also established an expert sub-group to develop a trauma-informed risk and strengths framework in 2023. This will ensure we can work safely with people who wish to explore RJ and consider the right information from them and the services who support them towards best achieving their desired outcomes.

Other plans include expanding our engagement across services, partnerships and sectors to support improved understanding of RJ, and to demonstrate the use of restorative approaches within the criminal and community justice systems.  These include healing circles, story-telling and letter-writing. I would also hope to test RJ with people who are already seeking this, in order to ensure the process is effective, collaborative and safe.

We owe it to those who experience harm, and those who have dedicated their lives to RJ practice, empowerment and choice to keep going.  So we do and we will.  I only hope to make them proud.