UP to 7,000 criminal cases could be diverted from the courts to restorative justice programmes each year, saving the State up to €8m in prison costs.
A major report published yesterday, based on two years’ research, found that restorative justice is not only better for victims and offenders, but is 30 times less expensive than incarcerating criminals in prison.
Under restorative justice, offenders take responsibility for their actions and make amends to victims, instead of serving a prison sentence.
The report by the National Commission on Restorative Justice found that two pilot programmes – in Tallaght, Dublin, and Nenagh, Co Tipperary, – were successful and that international research confirmed the success of restorative justice.
“The commission is convinced that the implementation of restorative justice on a nationwide basis will make a positive contribution to the lives of all citizens, and particularly to those more closely connected to the offending behaviour,” concluded the report, chaired by Judge Mary Martin.
“By providing the means to offer responses in the criminal justice system in a restorative setting, it increases the satisfaction of victims and communities with that criminal justice system and it reduces the likelihood of re-offending.”
The report said “in principle” all offences, bar murder and rape, should be considered for restorative justice, but it said that some serious crimes, such as sexual and domestic violence cases, should not be considered until the system was developed.
The report recommended that legislation be brought in to set up the system on a statutory footing and that all judges must be required by law to consider referring criminal cases attracting a possible three-year sentence for restorative justice.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed the report and said its recommendations should be fully implemented within the specified time.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: “Restorative justice serves as a real alternative to locking offenders up, reduces re-offending and allows victims a sense that they are at the centre of the justice system.”
He said he would examine the report in the context of the White Paper on Crime, which is looking at the use of custodial and non-custodial options.
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