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Community Justice - how it works in Sheffield

September 18, 2012 6:34 PM
By Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed, Leader of the Opposition, Sheffield City Council in Fighting Crime - Locally by the Lib Dem LGA group
Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed

Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed

The Community Justice Team (CJT) has been in operation in Sheffield since May 2009 and was a Liberal Democrat initiative in the city led by Cllr Paul Scriven, then council leader, following the pioneering work carried out in Somerset. The team consists of a Community Justice Team Coordinator (paid employee of Sheffield City Council) and 40 Volunteer Facilitators. The volunteers are recruited, selected, trained and mentored by the Coordinator. The Coordinator and Facilitators use Restorative Justice to resolve disputes and repair harm. The service is victim focussed but involves liaising with both victims and wrong-doers, together with their supporters, to come to a satisfactory conclusion. In essence, the victim drives the process.

Referrals

Referrals are made to the CJT by South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Homes and other Registered Social Landlords (RSLs). The Police refer 85% of the cases. All parties referred give consent to be referred to this service. Referrals are accepted for parties aged 10 years upwards, for persons who have had only low-level disposals previously, i.e. final warnings and reprimands for children and young people and cautions for adults.

There are two distinct types of referrals; criminal cases and neighbour disputes. The criminal cases consist of low-level anti-social behaviour, such as criminal damage, minor assault, theft and public order offences. In criminal cases there is usually a defined Wrongdoer and Harmed Person. The neighbour disputes are usually around issues concerning; noise, parking, littering and occasional boundary disputes. In the neighbour disputes, both parties usually have equally valid complaints against each other and are therefore all referred to as harmed persons.

Coordination

The coordinator endeavours to allocate cases to Facilitators who live in the same area as the referred parties which helps to encourage local problem solving led by the Facilitators. Facilitators will make a home visit to each referred party in order to gain more information and an idea of those parties expectations of resolution.

When parties have been visited at home a Community Justice Panel is held at a local community building, usually a Library. All parties are asked a series of questions about the circumstances of the case with a view to coming to a satisfactory conclusion and agreement. Typical agreements consist of; apologies for behaviours; a reassurance that those behaviours will not be repeated; direct reparation (repairs or replacement of damaged property or goods); indirect reparation (services to the community such as litter-picking); and financial reparation for damaged or stolen property. All agreements are checked for compliance, the consequence for non-engagement or noncompliance is to return the case to the referrer.

Outcomes & Data

A recent evaluation by a Sheffield University International Criminology Student has found that 98.8% of those referred to The Community Justice Team were highly satisfied with the service they received.

There have been 450 referrals to CJT since 2009including 221 referrals in 2011.

To the beginning of 2012 there were:-

  • 140 referred cases of criminal damage
  • 100 referred cases for neighbour disputes
  • 52 referred cases of assault
  • 56 referred cases of theft
  • 100 other miscellaneous cases (e.g. motorbike nuisance, section 5, trespass etc.)

Approximately half are for children and young people. The re-offending rate for children and young people is 8%. The average time taken to resolve cases is 6 weeks. I will leave the final words to Paul Scriven, who was right to say:

"The panels have been particularly effective in dealing with problems caused by young people, forcing them to face up to the consequences of their actions on others and hopefully changing their ways."

"There is only an 8 per cent reoffending rate for young people who have been through the panels, which is well below the national average. This shows that putting fairness and justice at the heart of local communities in this way is really working, and I'm happy with the good results we've seen so far."