Community involvement in restorative justice

Community involvement in restorative justice

 Martin Wright, assisted by Orlane Foucault, Student, Diplôme d’Études Supérieures Spécialisées de Droit des Victimes, Université de Pau, France

 Advocates of restorative justice often speak of it as benefiting victims, offenders and the community; it makes a neat triangle on a flip-chart. But some people have questioned what the word ‘community’ means. In modern cities, neighbours often do not know each other. There may be a community of people living far from each other with shared interests such as playing tennis or using the internet, a religious community who go to a place of worship, a spiritual community who practise yoga, or communi­ties of people with other shared characteristics, such as being Scottish, or gay. There are communities of people who are near, or beyond, the boundaries of the law, such as drug users or paedophiles. The community is everyone: the shopkeeper, the doctor or nurse – even the bureaucrat from the Ministry of Education or Justice is a member of the community when he or she comes home. Perhaps when thinking of individuals it would be better to use a different word, such as ‘members of the public’.

 For the point surely is that every citizen wants to live in reasonable safety, without being robbed, defrauded, attacked, poisoned (especially by the pollution of air, water and food), killed in car crashes or blown up by terrorists. There are three main ways in which we can try to protect ourselves or respond: state action, collective action or individual action. The question is, what is the best balance between them?

 State action means that we pay taxes to the state, which gives ‘an expert service provided by professionals’ (Crawford and Clear, 2001: 143), and says in effect, ‘Leave it all to us, except that we need you to report crimes and give evidence if necessary. We will provide police, courts, probation and so on. Sometimes you can help on the margins, for example by assisting victims or offenders.’ This model sometimes operates on a rehabilitative basis, but is more often used in a ‘crime control’ mode; it is likely to lead to more police, prisons, closed-circuit television and so on. Sometimes some of the work is done by private security firms, but the principle is the same. In many western countries the welfare state also provides assistance to all, including victims and ex-offenders, on the basis of need; several countries and states also provide monetary compensation to victims of violent crime. The generosity of these schemes varies widely, and may be largely swallowed up in medical expenses in countries without a free health service.

 Collective action has many forms. In early history it was taken by local geographical communities or clans, and this idea has been resurrected in family group conferences, as we shall see. Some is for self-protection: in eighteenth-century England there were Associations for the Prosecution of Felons, to share the legal costs, until this was taken over by the county and later the Crown (Wright 1996: 18). In England until 1986 the police prosecuted; now, as in other European countries, it is done by prosecutors. Insurance is a form of collective action. So are shopping malls which employ private security firms, and secure housing estates with high fences and guards. Consumer associations use their combined resources to protect the public from various forms of harm, some of it criminal; sometimes they campaign to persuade Parliament to make certain shady practices criminal. Neighbourhood Watch, School Watch, Farm Watch and so on, mainly for the protection of property, are a type of collective action, although it is often organized by the police. There is also a large amount of altruistic collective action by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), known in England as voluntary or ‘non-statutory’ organizations, and elsewhere as not-for-profit (associations sans but lucratif, eingetragene Vereine): societies to assist offenders, and in the last thirty years victims too. Now they have been joined by mediation services. Any of these may use volunteers and/or paid staff, and may be managed and often financially supported by private citizens, sometimes with additional state funding. Some of these functions may also be organized by the state (central or local government); some of them are trying to repair the harm done by the state, for example supporting victims and other witnesses through the ordeal of giving evidence in court, and helping offenders to overcome the after-effects of imprisonment. Often they are experiments, which would probably never have been carried out by the state without the influence of the NGOs.

 Individual action can include work by people who give their time and effort to help to reintegrate offenders, for example house owners who rent rooms, employers who provide jobs, teachers who accept difficult children into their class, foster parents, and people in NGOs who take the trouble to arrange for offenders to do work for them as part of their reparation. There is sometimes a fear that ‘do-it-yourself’ justice will involve vigilantes or even lynch mobs; restorative justice, however, offers another form of public participation, based on the ideal of repair, supported and supervised but not controlled by the state. The state system of criminal justice remains available for cases where for any reason restorative processes cannot be used or are not sufficient, but the hope is that it too will increasingly operate as far as possible on restorative principles.

 This paper is written from an English perspective. Conditions are obviously different in different countries, so readers will have to translate the ideas (as well as perhaps the language!) to see whether they apply elsewhere. The survey which will be described later tries to make a start towards finding out the situation in several countries; but it gives only a rough sketch of the differences, and not the reasons for the differences. That will have to wait for more detailed research.

A model of community-based restorative justice

 It has been pointed out that there are differences between restorative justice and community justice. Restorative justice is primarily reactive, and tends to deal with individual cases; community justice looks not only at the wider effects of the crime after it has been committed, but also at the social pressures which lead people to commit crime. Its advocates would also maintain, however, that social reforms should be introduced because they improve everyone’s quality of life, and not merely because they may reduce crime (Crawford and Clear 2001). This paper considers the idea that the advantages of restorative justice are even greater if it is also community-based (or ‘democratic’, as defined by Wright 2000), that is, if there is a considerable amount of involvement of members of the public. But it recognizes that there are limits to this, and some difficulties of principle, as well as practical ones of putting it into effect.

 The indicative survey: the concepts behind the questions

 This section outlines some characteristics of community-based restorative justice, and describes a small survey to give a preliminary indication of the extent of community involvement in Europe. Then, after a note on the limitations of the survey, we will present a brief summary of the findings. The outline is over-simplified for clarity of presentation; obviously many of the statements need qualification.

(1) It would start in schools: children would be shown how to resolve conflicts in a problem-solving way using peer mediation, showing respect for each other, and focusing not on blame but on finding a constructive way forward. One question in the survey asks, without going into detail, whether each country has begun to introduce these ideas.

 (2) With regard to crime, a restorative approach would begin by showing concern for victims. Some victim support organizations have expressed concern that victim/offender mediation could absorb disproportionate resources, leaving too little for the majority whose offenders are not caught. The next question therefore asks whether there are services for victims, and this is followed by

 (3) one on services for offenders, because assistance to offenders is nearer to the ‘restorative’ end of the spectrum than to the ‘punitive’ end.

 (4) The next question concerns community (neighbourhood) mediation. Although this is primarily concerned with civil disputes such as conflicts between neighbours, it has a crime preventive aspect, because it may prevent some disputes from escalating into a crime. Unresolved neighbour disputes in England in recent years have sometimes led to property damage, violence and even death. In June 2003 for example one man shot and killed his neighbour after a two-year dispute over a hedge between their gardens, and other similar cases have ended in prison sentences, and in death through a heart attack (Independent, 16 June, Independent Review 25 June 2003). Even when a crime has been committed, it is possible for the disputants to refer their case to a community mediation centre rather than to the police; or the police may recommend them to do so. When there is serious violence or murder, of course, any such resolution through mediation will have to be in addition to, not instead of, the normal legal process.

 (5) This brings us to mediation specifically linked to crimes: victim/offender mediation. In addition to the questions about whether services are operated by NGOs or the state, and by volunteers or employees, we asked whether the services are available for all offenders or for juveniles only. The restorative ideal should be concerned with victims as much as with offenders; therefore those which are available only for young offenders, and thus exclude victims whose offenders happen to be over the age of 18, are not fully restorative.

 (6) A development of the idea of victim/offender mediation is conferencing: it is similar, but the family (preferably including the extended family) and supporters of the offender and victim are also present. The idea is that with more people taking part, the group dynamics will produce more ideas for resolving the situation, and often offers of help for the person concerned in fulfilling his promise to make reparation and in making a new start. Since it involves more people, this is one step closer to the idea of community-based mediation. A similar group of questions was therefore asked about this.

 (7) When a case goes to court, because it cannot be resolved by a restorative process, or is too serious to be left to that process alone, there would have to be sanctions, but they would be restorative ones, using community service wherever possible. We asked:

(a) whether this is used more, or less, restoratively. It is more restorative if it is regarded primarily as reparation, making amends to the community; less so if it is seen mainly as punishment (as in England, where ‘community service’ was re-named ‘community punishment’ in Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, although this is expected to be reversed after opposition from the probation service).

With regard to the reintegrative ideal of R J, we asked three more questions:

(b) Do offenders meet the people who benefit from their community service? It is assumed to be more restorative if, for example, they are assisting wheel-chair users or the residents of an old people’s home which they are decorating, than if they are merely picking up litter, cleaning graffiti or mowing the hospital lawn – although in those cases too, it would be beneficial if local residents or patients were to meet them afterwards.

(c) Do offenders work side-by-side with ordinary volunteers? This is reintegrative because it shows them that many people give their own time to help others, and allows informal contact between offenders and members of the public who are not offenders (or not currently). Failing that, they can work alongside staff. These were the ideals of the probation service when community service was first introduced in England; at the other end of the spectrum are what probation officers called ‘chain gangs’ – the chains are only metaphorical, but the offenders work in groups, with an overseer rather than a person sharing the work. Even punishment can be reintegrative when it is shared, as was shown by the governor of an English Borstal (young offenders institution), Sir Almeric Rich, in the 1930s, who would carry out the punishment, picking up stones from the fields, alongside the young man on whom he has imposed it (Wright 1983), to show that he shared responsibility for their misbehaviour.

(d) The last question on community service asks whether the offender receives any official thanks, or a certificate, when he has completed the work. This is a sign that the work is appreciated: it was imposed not because it was unpleasant, but because it was valued. Some young people even use their certificate when applying for jobs: it may be the only evidence they have of achievement.

 (8) A good programme includes follow-up, a few weeks after mediation has taken place. This has two functions. It shows the participants that the pro­gramme is concerned about their future welfare, and does not lose interest in them. It is also a method of data collection for purposes of quality control; although it is not practicable to ask a large number of detailed questions, it gives people a chance to express their feelings and opinions.

 In some cases we hope that a question about a particular practice may prompt people to consider introducing it if they have not already done so.

 Community involvement

In each case, in accordance with the communitarian ideal, we asked whether the services are operated by NGOs or the state, or both, and secondly who does the work.

 (i) The most communitarian method uses volunteers, often ‘ordinary’ people with full-time jobs who offer some of their spare time, or those who are retired or unemployed. They undergo training, and are usually supported and supervised by full-time professionals. This is what Aertsen and Peters (2003) call ‘ l’approche bottom up de la justice restauratrice’.

 (ii) ‘Lay workers’ or ‘lay mediators’ in this paper means the same kinds of people as those who become volunteers, but unlike volunteers they are paid a fee for each case.

 (iii) Thirdly, there are full-time employees of NGOs. They often have professional qualifications, and are thus different from the volunteers and lay workers, but they are in touch with the community through the management of the NGO, which often includes volunteers in the above sense. Some NGO committees, however, are partly or mainly composed of state employees. Local NGOs can be members of a national one, called in England an ‘umbrella body’; this develops the ethos of the work, and may have a system of accreditation to maintain the standards of the work done by local members.

(iv) State employees are the fourth category. In this survey we did not distinguish between those who work for local or national agencies, nor between those who are employed full time for the task in question, and those who are for example police or probation officers and spend only part of their time on this task. There is a danger that in the latter case they may not use mediation in all suitable cases, because of the pressures of their primary work, and that the ethos of their main job may sometimes take precedence over that of restorative justice.

 Limitations of the survey

Limitations of the survey

 The survey makes no claim to the title of ‘research’; we have called it an ‘indicative survey’. It had its origin in a paper on ‘Restorative justice outside the criminal justice system: How far have we come?’, which I presented to a conference of the European Forum for Victim/Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice in Oostende in October 2002. As a small beginning towards answering this question, the Secretariat of the European Forum distributed a questionnaire to participants. To increase the number of replies, Orlane Foucault kindly helped by approaching contact persons in other countries in which there are members of the Forum; she also analysed the replies and contributed to the comments on the findings. Replies were received from fifteen countries: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, England and Wales, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. These countries are not necessarily representative; for example, no reply was received from Norway, which has been in the forefront of community-based mediation using volunteers for a decade. We were encouraged by the optimism of one country which indicated that it has ‘future plans’ for all forms of mediation.

The survey makes no claim to the title of ‘research’; we have called it an ‘indicative survey’. It had its origin in a paper on ‘Restorative justice outside the criminal justice system: How far have we come?’, which I presented to a conference of the European Forum for Victim/Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice in Oostende in October 2002. As a small beginning towards answering this question, the Secretariat of the European Forum distributed a questionnaire to participants. To increase the number of replies, Orlane Foucault kindly helped by approaching contact persons in other countries in which there are members of the Forum; she also analysed the replies and contributed to the comments on the findings. Replies were received from fifteen countries: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, England and Wales, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. These countries are not necessarily representative; for example, no reply was received from Norway, which has been in the forefront of community-based mediation using volunteers for a decade. We were encouraged by the optimism of one country which indicated that it has ‘future plans’ for all forms of mediation.

So as not to cause ‘questionnaire fatigue’, the questions were designed to be answered quickly, without giving exact figures; for example, it asked questions such as ‘Is this service available in a few areas, in many areas or nationwide?’ The questions required ‘Yes/No’ answers, although some respondents took the trouble to give more information. It should therefore be borne in mind that, for example, two NGOs in Iceland may serve the same proportion of the population as fifteen in Germany. The questionnaire was kept short; for example there were no questions about ‘equal opportunities’: the involvement of all sections of the community by offering training to mediators without previous paper qualifications, and by recruiting mediators from all ethnic and linguistic groups.  

We are grateful to all the respondents for their time; but because they were only asked for approximate answers, we will not identify the individual countries or respondents. An indication of the approximate nature of the survey is that from one country, two people answered, and their answers were not always the same! (In such cases we generally used the more inclusive answer: for example, if one said there were state services and the other said there were NGOs, we counted both.) Thus the answers received can be subjective: the respondents have answered on the basis of their personal knowledge, but without further research they cannot know the whole system existing in their country.

 No attempt was made to restrict respondents to precise definitions of terms such as non-governmental organization (NGO) In some countries, such as France, ‘NGO’ means some associations with a certain recognition at a national or international level; whereas in other countries every kind of local association can be seen as a NGO. In some cases much voluntary work is organized through NGOs, in others much of it is done by individuals on their own initiative. It is likely that some other concepts, used in the research, could have different meanings according to the countries, and these need to be explored in a more comprehensive survey.


 On each of these dimensions, how widespread were restorative practices in each of the 15 countries that responded, and how much community involvement did the survey find – bearing in mind its very tentative nature?

 (1) Schools

The use of peer mediation by its nature has high community involvement, since it has no contact with the criminal justice system except in the most serious cases; it also has a high level of restorativeness. We found that it is used in 11 of the fifteen countries, but in only 4 was it at all widespread – the others had just a few projects.

 (2) Services for victims

 These are moderately restorative, since they assist the recovery of victims but do not involve dialogue with offenders. They are found in all 15 countries, and are nationwide in 10 of them. As regards community involvement, there are victim support NGOs in all of them, and 11 have state support as well (though in one country this was limited to compensation for criminal injuries, and in another it was described as ‘dysfunctional’. Eleven countries use individual volunteers, and three more, paid lay workers. Most (12) have full-time NGO employees as well, but only 8 have state workers.

 (3) Services for offenders

These are also only moderately restorative, because they involve no dialogue with victims nor reparation. They are found in all the countries; in all but one of them they are nationwide. Most countries have both state and NGO services. Eleven countries use individual volunteers, 10 have full-time NGO workers and 14, state workers.

 (4) Community mediation

This is highly restorative, because by definition the parties speak to each other (or at least communicate indirectly). It is not so widespread as the services for victims and offenders, being in only 8 countries, and nationwide in only 3 of them. They all have NGOs, and 4 of them have state involvement as well. Five of them use volunteers, and 6 have NGO workers. All have the possibility of people referring themselves ‘for disputes which are not criminal, or do not have to be treated as criminal’.

 (5) Victim/offender mediation

This is available in 13 of the countries, but nationwide in only 5 of them. Seven have services in only a few areas. In ten of the countries the services are delivered by NGOs, most of them (6) with state agencies as well. Volunteers are used in 6 countries, overlapping with 8 that use lay workers. The process is inherently restorative, but should be available to all victims, so we asked in which countries the service was limited to juvenile offenders and their victims, or to adults. The answer was that 2 countries had services for juveniles only, 2 for adults only, and 10 for both – but this may conceal that within those countries some of the local services may be more restricted.

 (6) Victim/offender conferences, family group conferences

This can be a highly restorative process, because of the extensive involvement of the community, but it has hardly begun in the countries studied. Only 2 say that they have introduced it, one nationwide, one in a few areas; two have experimental projects, and in two more conferencing is done occasionally, for example by social services. Two involve the community even more by using volunteers. Only one offered the service to both adults and juveniles.

 (7) Community service

This is available in 13 of the countries. No question were asked about the process, although community service could be regarded as more restorative if agreed by the victim and the offender rather than imposed by a court. Here the focus of the questions was on whether it is perceived as a restorative measure or was regarded primarily as a punishment. This question was posed directly; only one country said that it was seen purely as reparative, four saw it as combining reparation and punishment, but the majority (8) regarded it as a form of punishment. Further questions explored ways in which the community service might be felt to be more restorative, inclusive or reintegrating.

 Do the offenders meet the people who are benefiting by their work? In 5 countries they do, and in four more ‘sometimes’. The other 4 said ‘No’. Another aspect of inclusiveness is whether the offenders work in a separate group, or with members of the community who are helping with the task voluntarily, or with members of staff. Five work alongside volunteers, and 11 with staff – although the question did not make clear whether this meant that the staff were doing the work as well, or merely supervising the offenders. Another sign that the work is seen as reintegrative is that the offender receives some form of thanks after completing it. This happens in 5 countries, one of which issues a certificate; 9 countries said No, one of them suggesting that this is seen as inappropriate for a punishment.

 (8) Follow-up of victims

Finally, a way of showing that the service is focused on the wellbeing of victims as well as of offenders is by a follow-up contact to ask how they feel about the process. This is also of course a method of quality control. Only 4 countries have routine follow-up of victims (we did not ask about the results of the follow-up); in 9 countries there is none, although one mentioned scientific evaluation programmes.

  Making community-based restorative justice work

 The survey showed that both NGOs and volunteers are active in many countries, assisting victims or offenders and providing mediation. The idea has attractive features, but it is not always easy to put into practice. There are both theoretical and practical considerations.

 We will consider organized voluntary activity; there are also, and we hope there always will be, individual people of good will who assist victims, offenders and other people in need without using the label ‘volunteers’. But victim/offender mediation by its nature does need to be organized, both to bring victims and offenders together and to liaise with the criminal justice system. It can be organized entirely by the state, with full-time professional state employees; but since the ideal of restorative justice is to enable the individuals affected by the crime, or harmful act, to take a personal part in resolving it, it is consistent with that philosophy to see whether members of the community can also take an active part in facilitating the process. This section will consider some aspects of involving the community: individual volunteers, problems with volunteers, paid lay workers, independence of NGOs, and funding.

 Individual volunteers

The use of volunteers has many advantages. They can be drawn from all sections of the community, and not only the university-educated middle class. They can come from municipal housing, from manual jobs, from minority ethnic groups and people with disabilities. It may be questioned whether they are representative of these groups (Crawford and Clear 2001); but an election would be very complex to organize, and would probably produce only a low number of votes. In any case, the people who are good at getting elected are not necessarily those with the qualities to make a good mediator. If there is no voting procedure, they will be self-selected, and care needs to be taken in the recruitment and training of volunteers to draw them in from as wide a range of people as possible; assessment would come at the end of the training course. Since volunteers are often people with full-time jobs, they are available in the evening and at weekends, which are the times likely to be most convenient to victims (and to offenders if they have jobs); but it is desirable to have some volunteers who are free during the day (self-employed, unemployed or retired), because some victims are on shift work, or do nor want to go out after dark.

 Experience has shown that volunteers with basic training, including role-plays, can have a sound understanding of the principles and techniques of mediation. They can work in a professional way, and be­cause there are no staff costs, it is practicable to mediate in pairs. This makes it possible to have an evaluation at the end of each session; part of the training in­cludes learning how to give and receive constructive criti­cism. Trenczek and colleagues (2003) refer to the advantages of using people from different social groups, and point out that the use of two mediators (co-mediation), which is desirable for reasons of quality assur­ance, is costly without the use of volunteers. One experienced organizer, however, says that in the large conurbation of the West Midlands, in England, 1800 victims were contacted in one year, and she doubted whether this would have been possible using only volunteers (Tudor 2003).

 In the community mediation service where I am a volunteer and member of the management committee, a third volunteer is present at mediations. He or she is also a trained mediator, but acts as ‘receptionist’, greeting the parties when they arrive and keeping them apart until they come together in the mediation room; he or she also offers refreshments at the beginning and sometimes at the end while the agreement is being written, and deals with any other unforeseen events, such as looking after a child which one of the parties has unexpectedly brought to the meeting. The receptionist takes no part in the actual mediation, but contributes to the mediators’ evaluation afterwards as a detached observer. At least one service uses a different model of co-mediation, with one staff member and one volunteer; when volunteers have acquired some experience, they may consider making a career change and applying for a job as a full-time mediator or administrator.

 Problems with volunteers

Turning to the question of organization, it has to be said that there are difficulties in organizing volunteers. Many of them lead active lives and have only limited availability, some do not always return telephone messages. Ideally the government would legislate to require employers to allow employees a certain amount of time off for work of this kind, just as (in England) they are allowed time to serve on juries or in the Territorial Army (military reservists) and sometimes to act as lay magistrates. A few large companies have schemes in which they second a member of staff to an NGO for a year or so, to gain wider experience. A government which really wanted to promote volunteering would shorten the working week, as was done in France recently for other reasons; and it would reduce the normal age of retirement from full-time work, not increase it, as has recently been discussed in Germany and the United Kingdom. Even if hours were not shortened, it would be helpful to allow flexible hours, which would be popular with many workers (Guardian, 2 January 2003).

 I must admit that one NGO with which I am involved is currently having difficulties, both in finding enough volunteer mediators who are willing and able to give enough time, and in finding people to serve on the management committee.  And this in a country with a strong tradition of voluntary activity. The difficulty of finding time is one reason for employing lay helpers or sessional workers, who are, as explained above, from similar backgrounds to those of volunteers, but are paid for visits and mediations. Another reason is ‘equal opportunities’: it is a principle of mediation that no one should be prevented from helping by their personal circumstances. It is normal for mediation services to pay volunteers’ expenses for travelling, child care and so one; those with low incomes may not be able to afford the time at all, for example if mediating prevents them from working overtime. Payment of a fee may thus make it possible for them to act as mediators.

 Paid lay mediators

Part of the ideal of RJ is involving ‘ordinary’ people from all sections of society. This is more likely to be achieved if there are no prior entry qualifications for training courses; there will of course be assessment at the end, and some self-selection may take place during the course. There are practical difficulties, such as those mentioned above;  also some people say that mediators are better motivated if they are paid (for example to be reliable in doing what they undertook to do, and attending in-service training to keep their skills up-to-date). On the other hand, if the mediators are attracted by the fees into mediating almost full-time, will they no longer be ‘typical’ members of the community but quasi-professionals, and even compete with one another to get more cases?

 Also, although volunteers can work very competently, there may be cases of unusual complexity or duration for which salaried staff are necessary. An intermediate position is taken by Austria, where probation officers are trained as mediators, but they work only as mediators, not as probation officers. They have of course originally been trained in the probation service, so they are likely to have absorbed its values ; but we can never eradicate every influence on the mediators – all will bring some previous attitudes with them, because of their gender, age, ethnicity, occupation and so on. .

 Perhaps a tradition of voluntary activity is actually a need to involve people in a process of community involvement. Even in countries where it is not so strong, this is a culture that can be raised with information, experience and political encouragement.

 But we must be aware that it would take a long time, since mentalities are not so easy to change! There may be advantages in the practice in some services in Belgium, where mediation is carried out by NGOs but also by professionals employed by the local municipalities. It is a way of involving the inhabitants who pay for such a service by their taxes, and a kind of community involvement with safeguards. Although they are working outside the penal system, their relations with it can be facilitated by the cooperation between police and local authorities, for example.

 In many ways the idea of members of the community helping each other voluntarily is an attractive one, which may produce a special relationship with the people to whom the service is offered. (This is what Victim Support, in the United Kingdom, believes.) However, perhaps a real community involvement is somewhat utopian because of all the practical difficulties. For the moment, we need to go “slowly but surely”, just as other RJ practitioners have done to enter the criminal justice system. In short, we could say that there are pro’s and cons for different methods, and people in each country will have to consider which is best in their circumstances.

Independence of NGOs

We would argue that it is preferable that mediation should be run by an organization which is primarily concerned with mediation, and not with offenders, victims, or criminal justice, as a guarantee against the pressures and priorities of the criminal justice system. It could deal with a broader range of case, including civil disputes, than just the ones implied in the judicial system. We also think it is preferable, if paid staff act as mediators, that they should be primarily mediators (police, probation officers and so on may mediate, but there is a risk that their professional ethos will outweigh that of mediation). There seems to be general agreement that the same individual should not act in two different capacities in the came case. Local mediation services, and individual mediators, can be encouraged to become members of a national ‘umbrella body’, which will offer training and support.


Even if volunteers work at a low cost, governments should not think that they provide a service at no cost. Volunteers have to be recruited, trained, supervised and supported. Quality assurance is necessary, but takes time and money: there is a tendency for the process of assessment and accreditation to be bureaucratized, which may entail a burdensome amount of record-keeping. In a service which is accountable to the criminal justice system, that too will require efficient record-keeping – in addition to the work of maintaining the liaison, explaining restorative justice to new judges, prosecutors and probation officers, and so on. A local NGO is often a member of a national ‘umbrella body’, and it takes time to maintain this relationship – possibly by taking part in courses and conferences or its governing body. All this requires adequate levels of staffing.

 How is this to be paid for? Some NGOs receive money from charitable trusts, especially when they are being established; but for running costs they usually have to look for funding from local or national government agencies. If a government believes in the involvement of active citizens in work such as mediation, it needs to make sure that they can spend most of their time in doing the work and maintaining standards, and not making incessant applications to meet the criteria of the latest headline-catching government initiative. Nor is it desirable to obtain all the funding from one source; it could dry up as a result of a change of government policy. Moreover, one of the advantages of NGOs is their freedom to experiment, and funding which was provided for only one narrowly defined purpose could limit this creativity. On the other hand, government funding can be a helpful discipline, if it makes sure, without excessive bureaucracy, that adequate standards of service are maintained.

 Funding can also be a partial answer to the question of representativeness. If the government takes the pressure off by providing most of the funding – including the salaries, which are the largest single cost in organizations of this kind – then the NGO has to find the remainder, from local authorities, criminal justice agencies, charitable trusts, donations from churches and from businesses, collections at public meetings, and whatever fund-raising methods are popular in the country concerned. In order to ask for financial support, the organization has to undertake publicity to explain its work and answer questions – in other words to be answerable.


 This survey may indicate that in some countries the tradition of volunteering is not so strong ; however, people may do voluntary work without attaching that label to it, for example by looking after an elderly relative or a child;  or they may not be able to volunteer because in order to earn a living they have to work long hours, or spend time to save money (by shopping around for bargains, or repairing their homes for example). Volunteering necessitates a lot of energy, time and “don de soi”, or altruism. 

 Maybe we should have a new way of making international comparisons. Instead of comparing the Gross Domestic Product, average incomes, car ownership and so on, perhaps we should use surveys or censuses to look at how many people have enough spare time for voluntary activity for the community, and how much they contribute to support it financially – either through direct giving or through taxation. This would include not only social welfare, but arts, sports and other community activities. We might speculate that countries which scored highly on these criteria would be fairer and have less crime.


Aertsen, Ivo, and Tony Peters (2003) ‘Des politiques européennes en matière de justice restauratrice.’ Journal International de Victimologie, October.

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