One of the principles of restorative justice is inclusivity. This means that, in contrast to conventional criminal justice proceedings, restorative justice programmes aim to include and give a voice to those that are directly affected by a particular criminal offence. Among them are the offender, the victim, their respective families or others close to them, and sometimes the wider community. Restorative programmes can then be categorised from least to most inclusive, depending on who is involved. A common application of the restorative approach in North America and in Europe is victim-offender mediation. It is the least inclusive of all restorative practises and involves two participants - the victim and offender of a particular offence.
They are assisted by a trained facilitator, in this case called a “mediator.” Mediation can be face-to-face, written or liaised communication between the victim and offender. Such direct or indirect dialogue is an opportunity for the victim and offender to express themselves and ask questions. The important thing is that it is communication, back and forth, between the victim and the offender.
Some schemes more expressly intend to address the underlying causes of crime, foster collective responsibility for crime, and help the offender reintegrate in a supportive environment. As such, these schemes strongly wish supporters of the offender to present. For instance, the offender’s parents, partner, or a key worker - such as a youth worker or a probation officer, for example. The victim and their supporters are invited to attend, as well. A conference cannot occur without the victim or some representative of the victim being present. But in some schemes the victim can nominate someone to take their place whom they brief beforehand.
In some conference schemes, a representative of the criminal justice system - for instance a police officer - might be present as well. This is called “conferencing”. It is more inclusive than victim-offender mediation. Conferencing has mainly been developed in some Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, the UK and Australia but now takes place in many countries. In some conferencing schemes, conferences are facilitated by a trained police officer. Each of the participants is given a chance to describe their experiences in relation to the offence, after which they work together to design a plan, which is called the “outcome agreement”, which all can agree with.
The outcome agreement may include an apology from the offender, reparation to the victim, and/or programmes to help the offender address the causes of their offending behaviour, such as substance-abuse programmes or educational programmes. A number of restorative practices allow for inclusion of the wider community. For instance, sentencing circles in Canada include the offender and the victim of an interpersonal offence, as well as their relatives and any member of the local community who wishes to be present. These have, in particular, been set up in response to offences committed by members of indigenous Canadian communities. Because of their central role in such communities, they also involve native elders.
They are respected members of indigenous communities and are revered for their knowledge of the indigenous way of living and nurturing of cultural heritage. They may provide specific knowledge about the offender and the victim, and the resources available in the community to support their reintegration. Also in England and Wales, there’s an interest in the role of the wider community to deal with the consequences as well as the causes of crime, particularly in the case of youth offending. The 1999 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act introduced elements of restorative justice in the youth justice system through the creation of Youth Offending Teams and referral orders.
Referral orders allow judges to refer young offenders between 10 and 17 who plead guilty and are convicted for the first time to a youth offender panel after conviction. A victim may participate, but the scheme does not require for a victim to be present. Research shows that victims may not always be contacted and asked to participate. Sometimes a community member can attend and reflect on the harms caused to the community. In addition, if a victim is invited but chooses not to attend, he or she can then be invited to write a statement that can be read to the offender at the meeting.
Given the lack of an obvious identifiable social community, youth offender panels involve trained volunteers from the community, who prepare and facilitate the restorative meeting with the offender as well as represent the community’s interests. The meetings are coordinated by a professional scheme member who is affiliated with the local Youth Offending Team. Because it can involve different numbers of people, restorative justice is a flexible format, which makes it valuable, as it can be adapted to different situations.