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Considering Restorative Justice - lecture by Crispin Blunt MP

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt at Lambeth Palace

Thursday 24th November 2011

The Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a lecture by Crispin Blunt MP on Restorative Justice. The event was held to mark National Prisons Week (20th-26th November).

Prisons Week was formed by Christian denominations and organisations to pray for and raise awareness of the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prison staff and all those who care about these people and issues.

The text of the lecture by Crispin Blunt MP is below.  A response to the lecture by the Rt Revd Peter Selby, Bishop to HM Prisons 2001-2007, follows. 

Considering Restorative Justice

Lecture by Crispin Blunt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation

As Prisons Minister it's good to be with you for Prison's Week – this has been a great resource for 30 years equipping the Christian community to focus on the needs of victims of crime, prisoners, prisoner's families and those who work within the Criminal Justice System.

It is also good to know that in recent years other faith communities use this time to raise the awareness of prison work and I was pleased to learn that over recent years chaplains from a number of faith communities have met together to share their sources of inspiration and to commit themselves together to work for the care of prisoners and staff within the prison service.

The theme for this year's Prisons Week is "Can you see me, or are you just looking?" There are plenty of people who "just look" at the issues relating to criminal justice but we need to really "see" beyond some of the more popular perceptions if the Criminal Justice System is to develop in such a way as to serve the victims of crime, offenders and the wider community as well.

The title of this lecture "Considering Restorative Justice" gives us the opportunity of seeing some of these issues in a fresh way. When people think about the notion of Restorative Justice they rightly focus on the offender apologising to the victim and in some way making reparation for the crime.

This is crucially important, but the spiritual roots of restorative justice remind us there are three dimensions – the victim, the offender, and the wider community and restoration as it relates to these three dimensions is crucial if we are to see the ways in which restorative approaches can contribute to reducing reoffending.

Interestingly, a recent ICM poll of 1,000 people conducted on behalf of the Prison Reform Trust demonstrated that 94% of those polled want people who have committed offences such as theft or vandalism to do unpaid work in their community as part of their sentence to pay back for their crimes; and 88% felt that victims of should be able to have the opportunity to tell offenders about the harm caused.

The poll also revealed support for other elements that are so important to rehabilitation- better mental health care (80%) and treatment to tackle drug addiction (65%).

In this lecture I will seek to illustrate the ways in which Government policy seeks to support Restorative Justice principles as they relate to the restorative triangle of victim, offender and community.

Let us look first at restoration between Victim and Offender.

The value of Victim Offender Conferencing is powerfully illustrated by the work of the Youth Conference Service in Northern Ireland which I saw for myself when I visited the schemes last year. The service offers two types of Conferencing – one referral route where the young person is referred before conviction, the other being post conviction by order of the Court.

The process is by no means an easy option. It allows the victim to clearly tell the young person about the impact of their crime and the young person commits to make amends for what they did and to identify sources of support to stay out of trouble. The outcome of the Conference spells out clearly how the young person will address their offending behaviour and treatment needs, undertake a formal apology to the victim, make reparation and how supervision will work.

Unhappily, within current budget restraints we are unable to replicate this model fully in England and Wales within the short term, we are learning lessons from their work in building capacity and capability across the criminal justice system, including for adults.

From our own research of recent restorative justice pilots in England and Wales we know the value for restorative principles. The pilots saw that RJ interventions led to reductions in the frequency of re-offending by 14% and, crucially a 85% victim satisfaction figure for those involved.

These approaches not only help motivate offenders to change but also to help victims to deal with the crime committed against them and to move on.

It is our ambition that all prisons and probation trusts will develop capability to deliver Restorative Justice to victims and offenders in appropriate circumstances based upon best practice principles. To help increase capability the National Offender Management Service is also awarding a grant later this month in which the successful provider will work across the piece to develop capacity for delivering effective Restorative Justice at a local level.

In the youth system, we will also be supplying funding to Youth Offending Teams for training staff and volunteers involved in Youth Referral Order panels in restorative practices. These panels are already based on restorative principles but we will aim to make them operate in a similar way to the conferences I have just described in Northern Ireland.

And we are working further down the system too. We are also introducing Neighbourhood Resolution Panels which will bring together local victims and communities with offenders and criminal justice professionals, using restorative and reparative approaches to agree what action should be taken to deal with certain types of low level crime and disorder referred to them by the police. We plan to have the panels up and running in early next year.

Another dimension to the Victim-Offender dimension of the criminal justice system that has often been pioneered in prisons through prison chaplaincy is the provision of Victim Awareness Courses. The courses introduce offenders to the idea of restoration and the impact of offending and include a session when a surrogate victim of crime comes in to talk about their own experience. Although not the victim of any of those offenders on the course, this session brings the experience of victims into sharp relief for offenders.

Well known examples are the Sycamore Tree course pioneered by Prison Fellowship and based on the biblical story of Zacchaeus but open to people of any faith; the Justice Course based on the story of Joseph and pioneered by the Muslim Chaplain at HMP The Mount, but again open to those of any faith; and the SORI programme – a course developed by prison chaplaincy based on work pioneered at HMP Cardiff.

The courses also include a moving act of reparation by participants at the end when the symbolic victim and other representing the local community witness the offenders' contrition and commitments to change. Indicative research by the University of Sheffield has shown that there is positive attitudinal change following participation in the Sycamore Tree Course and I am pleased that Prison Fellowship is offering this to the London prisons at no cost.

The impact of such courses is seen in a young man who became involved in chaplaincy activities following his father's death. He had been convicted of drug related offences and always maintained his were victimless crimes – he saw it all just in terms of business. After he took part in SORI at Cardiff and began to explore the real impact of his offending he saw the connection between his behaviour and those whose lives had been blighted by drugs. As part of reparation, he decided to work "inside" with those who had been affected by drugs as well as becoming a peer mentor on SORI. He has gone on to work in the community following release.

Finally in this section I would like to mention Working Prisons, one of my top priorities which again draws on restorative principles. We are making prisons places of "effective work and meaningful activity" and the aspiration is to have prisoners working a full week. This will mean that prisoners are encouraged to develop the habit of work – for some this will be for the first time – and to develop skills that will support them on release. Such work will be income generating. There will, inevitably be capital and start up costs, as well as the particular challenges of running a business in a prison, Once such costs are paid, monies will be made available to victims. This is reparative in a very practical way by supporting victims of crime. I also hope that it may lead prisoners themselves to see the link between the work they undertake and how this restores them to the community by giving something back and by learning how to become productive citizens. This will also mean that the Work in Prisons programme must be commercially viable.

But there is also a crucial reparative element with the Prisoners' Earning Act allowing for a deduction to be made from prisoner earnings to go towards making reparation to victims and communities. Again, prison chaplaincy and chaplaincy volunteers can provide opportunities to explore the theology of work and how such work is part of a journey an offender can make towards desisting from crime and acting responsibly.

Let us now consider restoration between the Offender and the Community

Turning first to the value of Community Payback which is a form of both punishment and reparation. Seeing people engaged in hard, unpaid work is another visible sign of offenders engaging in a constructive way with the wider community. Probation Trusts work with local authorities to enable that the work undertake as part of Community Payback focus on projects which are of most benefit to the local community.

But the restoration envisaged between offender and community also requires Community Involvement. The Big Society envisages communities that take responsibility for the provision of local services through not just statutory agencies, but also through volunteers and voluntary sector organisations.

An interesting approach to changing the public perception of prisoners and their families in relation to resettlement is the "Yellow Ribbon Campaign" launched by the President of Singapore in 2004. People wear a yellow ribbon in support of ex offenders and the campaign talks about "unlocking the second prison", namely the difficulties that offenders have resettling into the community. The campaign has been effective – in 2008 560 new employers signed up to support prisoners on release and the numbers continue to grow. I am pleased with employer contributions nationally, National Grid are a prime example.

But the offenders themselves need to take an active part in the process by taking training courses, having tattoos signifying gang affiliation removed and committing themselves to change. I will talk a little more about offender rehabilitation shortly. The campaign continues and this year there was actually a "Yellow Ribbon Marathon" to raise awareness of these issues and the need for the wider community to "unlock the second prison".

Community volunteers play a very important role in our criminal justice system in England and Wales, in particular in delivering and supporting crucial aspects of offender rehabilitation such as education and skills learning; supporting offenders and their families; providing housing support and advice on finance, benefit and debt issues. It is estimated that 6,500 volunteers come through Chaplaincy departments alone supporting work that is both faith based and non faith based. Volunteers also play a crucial role in delivering restorative justice – for example through the youth referral panels; delivering restorative conferences between offenders and victims working with criminal justice partners in many areas already practising restorative justice; and Neighbourhood Resolution Panels will be completely reliant upon local volunteers helping to administer better crime and justice outcomes for their local communities. This can only happen by engaging voluntary organisations, particularly faith based organisations.

Faith Communities have a huge part to play in the whole area of resettlement as well as in the Rehabilitation Revolution. You have a remarkable track record in encouraging volunteers within the CJS and the numerous Community Chaplaincy schemes mobilise resources to assist with through-the-gate work. Faith communities can also provide very tangible support as people leaving prison are enabled to join Mosques, Churches, Temples and other types of faith gathering. I would also encourage members of faith communities to offer themselves as members of the Neighbourhood Justice panels, rooted as they often are in particular communities and aware of local challenges.

The final area I would like us to think about is Restoring and rehabilitating the Offender. One of the areas that emerges from victim empathy courses is the recognition by offenders that their families are also in some sense the victims of their offending - the theme of day 4 of Prisons Week. A crucial part of working with offenders is to restore links with families. If these are positive they can be crucial in ensuring a person remains motivated to pursue life as a citizen rather than returning to crime. Such links are especially important given the increased likelihood that the children of offenders will themselves become caught up in the CJS at the cost of future victims.

In addition to work with families, we are working to address the core factors that influence an offender's ability to change- finding a stable home; undertaking education and learning new skills; tackling substance misuse problems; dealing with finance, benefit and debt problems as well as tackling their behaviour and attitude to turning their life around for the better and reduce their re-offending.

Again, faith can be a crucial factor in this as a person can come to see themselves as capable of changing and developing a new identity that integrates the various approaches to rehabilitation that they experience during their time in prison.

Within the Christian tradition, the work of Transformed - which is a group of ex offenders whose stories of changing their lives around are an inspiration to others -and also the Transformed Church in Brixton which supports ex offenders - are examples of how a restored sense of self worth and value can significantly support people remaining crime free.

The programme Belief in Change being piloted in HMP Channings Wood and HMP Risley seeks to bring together insights from cognitive behavioural programmes and spiritual traditions to facilitate resettlement focussing strongly on mobilising local communities to support people both inside and through the gate.


The idea of Restoration and Restorative Justice is found within many spiritual and religious traditions and in his book "The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice" Professor Hadley concludes "Restorative Justice is fundamentally a call to rethink the self, community, justice and responsibility."

As a Government we are seeking to rethink how Restorative Justice Principles which incorporate the dimensions of victim, offender and community can be incorporated into the CJS in such a way that victims feel a greater sense of satisfaction, healing and forgiveness rather than a sense of exclusion and powerlessness that can too easily come from the more traditional retributive justice approach.

Restorative principles also mean that the offender is to make reparation and accept responsibility for their actions and the impact of those actions on others, including their family and the wider community.

Far from being a soft option, this can be a painful realisation for many offenders but one that can really encourage them to engage positively with opportunities for rehabilitation. But if this cycle of restoration is to be complete the "Yellow ribbon project" reminds us of the role of the wider community to provide opportunities for ex offenders to resettle, find accommodation and employment. HMP Grendon's therapeutic community given as example.

Government initiatives can only go so far and one of the contributions that faith communities can make is to help people not just "to look" but to really "see" ex offenders as having potential to change and to support them on that journey of change away from the life of crime to the life of citizen. 

© Crispin Blunt 2011

Response to the lecture

by Bishop Peter Selby

President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards, and Bishop to HM Prisons 2001-2007

Bishop Peter SelbyThe invitation to respond to the Minister’s lecture came as a surprise result of an innocent phone call I made to Bishop James Jones to ask him how he was. After some conversation he said, ‘Oh and by the way ...’ and revealed that he couldn’t be here today and would like to suggest to the Archbishop that I stand in for him. Successors don’t always treat predecessors with such generosity – you could even call it ‘restorative justice’ – and I was very grateful when the Archbishop accepted the suggestion.

I suppose I need to declare an interest before I respond to the Minister: that is to say I hold office as President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards at his pleasure. I hope my telling you that won’t cause you to think my generally appreciative comments about his lecture are mere sycophancy. My sense about the lecture, as about my other conversations with the Minister, is that he believes, as I also do, that criminal justice policy, and particularly prison policy, is among the most intellectually demanding and stimulating areas of government, and I know that he, like the Secretary of State, wants to take the opportunity of holding his office at this time to be creative, even radical, in thinking about new and better ways of doing things.

The Minister’s lecture is part of that creative reflection and we are much the better for it. The giving of examples of actions the government has taken or is supporting, the pointing out of how much better things are getting is not of course unusual in ministerial statements, and there are some of these in this lecture. But I want to suggest that the most significant aspect of what the Minister has said is not in fact the particular initiatives of which he has spoken – I’ll refer to one or two of them later – but his integration of those initiatives within the overarching concept of ‘restorative justice’. He has given that term a wide coverage, and that is potentially very significant for policy-making. If it were to become such an overarching framework it would mean that policy over a wide range of criminal justice issues would be judged to a major extent by whether this or that initiative conformed to what the Minister has called ‘restorative justice principles’.

So in the lecture we have just heard ‘restorative justice’ has been extended far beyond what RJ is generally considered to mean – the encounter between perpetrator and victim so that the perpetrator really understands the effects of a crime and the victim is able to move on. That can involve extending the perpetrator’s consciousness more widely, through awareness courses that enable a person who has committed an offence to engage with the harm caused to the local community, but it is important to stress that we have not in such courses reached the point where a person known to have brought trouble and disrepute on the local community faces that community in a kind of restorative justice framework.

In the language of the lecture, RJ extends to the community in initiatives like community payback, where part of the punishment takes the form of something that in some way recompenses the community for the damage done to the life of the community by the crime that has been committed. There is widespread attention being given to making community sentences look and feel – both to perpetrator and community at large – a credible form of punishment, but I want to suggest that we need to hold on to a distinction between reparation and restoration. It may be that having a gang who have terrorised a neighbourhood with petty and not so petty crime clean up a derelict recreation ground and restore it to public use is a constructive response to their offending, and certainly may be more constructive than imprisonment. But it won’t necessarily enable a greater understanding of or contrition for the terror they have caused nor will the community necessarily feel it has been able to express its rage and fear at what they have done – and both of these aims are essential to ‘restorative justice’ as we most usually understand it.

However there is value in extending the meaning of RJ as the Minister has done if it makes clear that crime is not just a transaction between an individual perpetrator and an individual victim: a burglar does not just steal the property he steals; he steals the security and quality of life of a neighbourhood and indeed steals quite directly from everyone who might seek insurance from their property. And the wider community also has a contribution to the restorative process: at the recent birthday celebrations of the Prison Reform Trust I met an ex-prisoner who had in fact, with his victim, made a presentation at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs, though I had not been present on that occasion. The conversation we had makes a very important point about the exten­sion of ‘restorative justice principles’ into the wider community – the third side of the triangle mentioned by the Minister. The ex-prisoner said to me, ‘If I reoffend I’ll let Will (the house owner he’d burgled) down.’ Thus far he was focussed on what he had received from the RJ process for his relations with his victim. But he went on to say, ‘I tell lots of people about this, because the more people I tell the more people I’ll be letting down if I re-offend’. The community is a part of this process as the Minister has said, and not just as victim but also as agent of restoration.

But this brings me to issues we must face if we are to extend the RJ terminology too uncritically to cover various kinds of community reparation scheme, including some of the very good initiatives the Minister described. The risks are in a sense equal and opposite.

The first is that the language of RJ becomes so general as to leave a long way behind the specific, and painful, aspects of the processes of what we know as restorative justice meetings, to which in fairness the Minister takes care to refer. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs had a more recent presentation on this topic, at which I was present, and we are privileged to have with us Joanne Nodding who made a very powerful presentation of her experience at that meeting; with her permission I’ll refer to what she said.

Jo was raped by a young person with whom she was working, and with whom, as she thought, she had built a relationship of trust. Not without difficulty a guilty plea was achieved, and Jo both attended the trial and then worked very hard over a long period to be able to meet her attacker and have what was clearly a very searching conversation with him. Behind that persistence lay her desire, as she put it, to make clear to him that she was still there and able to face him, and had been able, though after an awful period of her life ‘being on hold’, to continue her life. Most powerfully, Jo said that she was particularly motivated by the comment of the sentencing judge to her attacker that he had destroyed her life; she was determined to show her attacker that he had not, and that could only happen if she met him and confronted him.

You would need a heart of stone not to be moved by such a story, and although Jo came over as truly remarkable the Minister has himself pointed to the statistics which show just what a high level of satisfaction victims had from the process. I don’t want to bore the Minister with a predictable comment on resources, but I do have in honesty to say, and here I echo the views of many of my colleagues on Independent Monitoring Boards, that as the Minister knows there is a risk that current budgetary constraints – to which he refers in his lecture – mean not just retrenchment but the loss of precisely those rather small but highly significant investments in creative penal thinking of which RJ is a pre-eminent example. But I want to say of Jo’s statement that out of her experience and generous and strong action comes a further insight, which supports the Minister’s wish to extend the concept of RJ more widely. I put it in the form of a question: does what Jo did prove the judge wrong in what he said to her attacker. I want to suggest that actually he was right: rape is always the destruction of someone’s life, sometimes intentionally so, always in fact. It’s also a destructive act towards the community: it makes our streets places of fear and our relationships corrupt intimacy with power – and even that language of mine and the judge may still be too male and abstract to capture the nightmare which is rape. But what the restorative justice process did as Jo carried it through with her attacker was not to prove the judge wrong – his description remains accurate – but to transcend his accurate judgment with an assertion of the human and the hopeful. That deserves not just our respect but our noticing with care just what restoration involves, and should warn us against using that language, however good our intentions in doing so, too easily.

I said there were in my view two issues raised by the Minister’s important and creative extending of ‘RJ principles’. If one is that it could generalise and render too abstract a very painful set of human interactions. The other danger is at the other extreme, that we may not generalise the principles enough – and here I have to dare to discard a convention by which I’m normally glad to be governed in my conversations with the Minister, namely we don’t discuss politics or religion! I need to venture into both at this point.

The fact is, and neither you nor the Minister need telling this, that crime is the tip of an iceberg of social dislocation; I say that not to excuse any particular action, but because it’s the truth. Not only is the boundary between victimhood and criminality porous – we know just how full of victims of crime prisons are, how full of the abused and attacked. But we also know the connections between crime and social inequality, poverty, homelessness, poor education and the other indices of exclusion. We know that being tough on the causes of crime – I’m sure we all recall the phrase – is much harder and more expensive than being tough on crime, but we can’t talk about restorative justice principles without getting into that fraught political area; and of course it extends far beyond anything a Prisons Minister – or indeed the prison service – can do. But you can’t talk about restorative justice principles without noting what that would mean for our society’s priorities and especially its inequalities.

And secondly those of us who are specifically engaged in this topic because the Christian story and message has us in its grip will be aware of another way in which restorative justice principles need the widest possible extension. It is to say that restoration is not just a programme we choose to follow, but has been since the days of Noah revealed as the character of God’s business, the fabric of the universe; so not to engage in it is not to engage is something we not only want but need. And if that were not enough, it is Jesus’ consistent practice to note that however deviant a person may be, or deranged, or dangerous to themselves or others, they remain also a mirror held up to humanity of what we need and what we can be, and of the ways we contribute to the well-being – or ill-being – of others That makes restorative, whatever may be the other claims on our life in terms of political priorities, an absolute.

If that sounds remote from what we often call reality, I’d add the evidence that our fellow citizens turn out to be more capable of changing their mind than we often suppose and they too, however punitive their initial approach to crime, and that of their newspaper, respond to the facts, to the untidiness of people’s lives, and to their fellow human beings with more compassion than they put in the letters they write to their MP. That is evidenced not just by the RJ experience but by the encouraging discoveries of the Sentencing Council that ‘the public’ don’t when faced with the facts all regard sentences as not tough enough.

So thank you for your expansive thoughts; with them and the RJ experience behind us, we can feel we have grounds for hope – and even real evidence: restoration is not just necessary; it’s possible.   Thank you.

© Peter Selby 2011

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