Innovation in victim-offender mediation first began to attract interest during the 1970s and 1980s. However, it was not until the development of restorative experiments taking place in Australia and New Zealand during the 1990s that practices of victim-offender mediation, and particularly the concept of restorative justice, received worldwide academic attention and policy interest (Braithwaite 1989). Restorative justice (RJ) has been discussed elsewhere in this text and so there is no need to revisit the concept in detail here, however it is useful to bear in mind that restorative models aim to incentivise a new design that prioritises engaging communities in localised justice processes, which are grounded in both parochial and private controls (Schiff et al. 2011). Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) are an example of restorative justice oriented innovations, which operate using a highly localised restorative decision-making model that seeks to engage victims, offenders, families and the wider community as resources in developing a more effective response to local, generally low-level crime problems. NJPs can be located along the continuum of non-adversarial restorative decision-making practices and forums that have developed over the last twenty years (Bazemore and Griffiths 1997). They are heavily reliant on community volunteers and operate as a form of diversion from formal court processes. Although ‘NJPs’ is currently the term in operation for these restorative panels in England and Wales, elsewhere similar types of restorative forums exist by other names such as neighbourhood accountability boards, reparative/citizen boards or community accountability boards. Restorative reparation schemes employing victim-offender mediation were first introduced in England at the end of the 1970s and by 1990 there were 14 such schemes in operation in various localities across the country (Marshall 1991). In the US, the first restorative panels originated in 1994 in Great Falls (Montana) and Boise (Idaho) and these were then followed shortly afterwards by panels in the counties of San Bernardino and Sacramento, California (Schiff et al. 2011). In 1996, as part of a large, cross-national study of victim/offender mediation involving analysis of programmes in the US, Canada and England, researchers found evidence that victim/offender mediation projects in England were producing positive results for victim and offender satisfaction and perceptions of fairness in the justice system’s response when compared with victims
and offenders who were referred to the programmes but never participated (Umbreit and Roberts 1996). The study also reported findings that victims who participated in the programmes were less fearful of being re-victimised (Umbreit and Roberts 1996). By the mid-1990s, restorative practices were evident in the US, Canada, England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Japan and Germany (Galaway and Hudson 1996). Interest in restorative programmes has continued apace and there are now a broad range of different types of restorative panels operating in many jurisdictions across the globe. One of the most well-known examples in the US is the Vermont Neighborhood Accountability Board (NAB) which was established after citizens argued that they could respond to non-violent offenders in the community better than the criminal justice system (Schiff et al. 2011; Karp et al. 2004). In countries such as South Africa (Froestad and Shearing 2007) and Northern Ireland (Erikkson 2009), where variations of NJPs exist, these models have been developed locally with significant support from a range of stakeholders. Moreover, the use of restorative practices has been implemented for both adult and young offenders. In Scotland, the Children’s Hearing System adopts a fundamentally restorative approach to youth justice which utilises Children’s Hearing Panels rather than formal court processes for responding to offending by children and young people (McVie 2011; Crawford and Newburn 2003), and in England and Wales, Youth Offender Panels are restorative in nature (Gelsthorpe and Morris 2002).1 Internationally too, other jurisdictions operate with restorative justice programmes for young offenders. Most notably, in Canada, following the enactment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act 2003, restorative Youth Justice Committees were introduced to respond to cases involving low-level youth criminality (Hillian et al. 2004). The restorative approaches to youth justice in Canada and in Britain are different to the restorative programmes in the US, however, because they have embedded national frameworks to implement restorative justice initiatives. Despite the interest that has developed internationally in restorative panels over the last few decades, there is at present a rather limited body of research evidence available on the impact of neighbourhood panels. Some detailed analysis has however been undertaken in the US, especially on Reparative Boards in Arizona and Vermont (Rodriguez 2005; Karp 2001). These studies have tended to suggest that neighbourhood panels can be a useful innovation but that they come burdened with a range of practical and conceptual difficulties, many of which were discussed in the previous chapter on community courts and community engagement, such as ensuring genuine and representative ‘community’ or volunteer participation; issues of adequate training and retention; and limited victim participation. However, before we go on to examine the implementation of NJPs in England and Wales, we must first consider the broader diversionary context in which these innovations have developed.