Oxford dons study how `restorative' justice works

Dr Richard Young

Dr Carolyn Hoyle

Two University criminologists are to study a Thames Valley Police initiative which it is hoped will have a significant impact on the future of the criminal justice system.

With a grant of £124,000 over three years from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Dr Richard Young, University Lecturer in Criminal Justice and Fellow of Pembroke College, and Dr Carolyn Hoyle, Research Officer, both based at the Centre for Criminological Research in Bevington Road, will study a Thames Valley initiative, called `Restorative Justice—Restorative Cautioning.' The Centre for Criminological Research was founded in 1966 and in 1991 became part of the Law Faculty.

The study involves the victim of a crime, and others affected by it, meeting the offender to discuss the harm he or she has caused, and to agree how that harm might be repaired. It is thought this gives greater satisfaction to the victims, and will better promote changes in behaviour by the offender.

Dr Young has just completed a report on a pilot study of the initiative in action in the Aylesbury Police Area, funded by a £3,800 grant from the University. Tape recordings were made of fifteen such meetings and interviews carried out with those involved. Dr Young, assisted by a D.Phil. student, Mr Benjamin Goold, also analysed files on 200 other such conferences held in Aylesbury since the initiative was launched.

Dr Young said: `The pilot study suggests that these meetings have some important advantages over the traditional "telling off" style of caution. Offenders appreciate the chance to put their point of view and so tend to listen much more carefully to what is being said to them by the police and any victim present.'

From April this year, all cautions administered by Thames Valley Police in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire, will be based on restorative principles. After a survey of all cases, three police areas will be chosen for a more detailed study, with researchers helping the police to develop techniques to allow a more rigorous evaluation. Some cases will be tracked over several months to monitor the longer term effects.

It is hoped the study will establish which elements are a success and how other factors in people's lives affect the outcome. The initiative could then become a model, for the Thames Valley and for police forces throughout the country.

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