I had asked whether the Colin Community Restorative Justice group, in particular, had read the protocols required for accreditation in a post yesterday. I hadn’t seen this Irish News report, via Newshound, which for all the futuring and the welcome from head of CRJ Belfast, Jim Auld, points to the findings of the Criminal Justice Inspectors report into those CRJ schemes still not accredited. Only the press release seems to be available [pdf file] Update Full report available here [pdf file] more below the fold
The report however indicated that further development was needed before the CRJI schemes inspected in Belfast and in Londonderry/Derry would be ready to seek accreditation under the Government’s community-based restorative justice Protocol.
“We were impressed by the commitment shown by volunteers and staff, but feel that if the schemes are to be successful in securing accreditation from Government, they need to formalise their relationships with the criminal justice agencies to meet the stringent requirements of the Protocol”, he said.
CJI pointed to a need for staff and volunteers to be ‘trained up’ in respect of the Protocol and for the schemes to adopt clear, standardised record-keeping that can provide the basis for future inspections.
The Inspectorate also recommended the establishment of an independent complaints system which clients could use if they felt their case had been handled in an unsatisfactory way.
From the full report [pdf file]
On CRJI schemes
The Belfast schemes
5.8 The Belfast schemes handle a wide range of business, which includes some serious crime and threats from dissident paramilitaries. They are well run, and great dedication is shown by the small team of staff members as well as by the volunteers. Inspectors were astonished at the commitment shown by many of those they interviewed, and there could be no question about their motivation being to help their communities, not in any sense to control them. [added emphasis]
5.9 Training was good, and paid due attention to human rights and to child protection. Mediation practice was non-coercive, relying on the forces of social control within the community and the respect in which individual CRJI practitioners are held. Record-keeping was good by the standards of small voluntary organisations and little modification would be required to meet the requirements of Inspectors.
5.10 The Belfast schemes are not in the business of patrolling or providing a security presence. They have separated themselves from the Safer Neighbourhood projects, though there is still evidence of some members participating in both. Inspectors agree that CRJI is right to pursue a policy of separation, so that their role does not become confused.
5.11 The funding position is precarious, especially for Falls and Upper Springfield, and there is urgency about finding money to keep these offices open.
while in Londonderry
The NorthWest schemes
5.12 The schemes carry out an impressive range of activities aimed at keeping the peace in their communities and resolving disputes as quickly as possible without recourse to the law.
They contribute to a network of community organisations, and their influence goes far wider than the activities which are specifically carried out in their name. The dedication of the volunteers has earned them a high reputation in the community. The schemes in the NorthWest have few detractors.
5.13 Only a small proportion of the ‘complaints’ with which they deal involve criminal offences. The majority would be neighbour disputes and low-level anti-social behaviour. Nevertheless, they are involved in criminal cases, sometimes of a serious nature. They have not normally reported such offences to the police, though they regularly now advise the victims to go to the police themselves, and may accompany them if the victim wishes. They report cases of alleged sexual abuse direct to the police. [added emphasis]
5.14 In order to operate the Protocol effectively the NorthWest schemes would need to improve their recordkeeping, and that would require paid staff, offices with secure storage for the files, and clarity about precisely which volunteers and staff were authorised to act as ‘practitioners’ for the schemes. It would be those practitioners who would be vetted by the suitability panel established by the Secretary of State.
5.15 Inspectors would suggest that CRJI NorthWest should follow CRJI Belfast in aiming to distance itself in general from security activities, which though lawful are liable to be interpreted as ‘alternative policing’. An exception might reasonably be made in relation to Derry City FC, where the existing arrangement works well and is supported by the PSNI, who retain control at all times.
5.16 We recommend that the schemes of CRJI Belfast and CRJI North West should be considered for accreditation as soon as they are ready to declare that they are complying with the Protocol, on the understanding that:
• They will re-present themselves publicly to emphasise that they are a service to all sections of the community equally and would welcome volunteers and committee members from all parts of the community;
• They continue to move in the direction of distancing themselves from activities not supported by the PSNI that could be interpreted as ‘alternative policing’; [added emphasis]
• They strengthen their ability (especially the NorthWest schemes) to keep clear and explicit case records, which can be used as the basis for future inspection; and
• They introduce proper procedures for recording and investigating complaints and publicise the availability of an independent external complaint mechanism if complainants are still dissatisfied.