School of Law

Restorative practice conference unites practitioners, researchers and policymakers

20 November 2015 |

An all-day conference held at the University of Leeds focused on how various sectors in the city can use restorative approaches.

On the 6th of November 2015, the University of Leeds welcomed over 120 people to the Great Hall for a one-day conference on restorative practices. The conference was the result of a collaboration between the University’s School of Law, the Leeds Social Science Institute and Leeds City Council. Attendees were drawn primarily from the criminal justice, education and children’s services sectors in the City of Leeds, with others coming from London, Bradford, Hertfordshire, Brighton and elsewhere in the UK. Several researchers and students with an interest in the subject matter also participated.

The conference, entitled “Restorative justice and restorative practices in Leeds: Towards a restorative city”, focused primarily on the inherent challenges and possible benefits of delivering restorative approaches in a range of sectors, as well as the ways in which these sectors could collaborate in the creation and maintenance of a restorative city.

The morning consisted of presentations by Prof. Adam Crawford from the University of Leeds, Nigel Richardson, Director of Children’s Services at Leeds City Council, and Belinda Hopkins, Director of Transforming Conflict. Adam spoke about the need to be mindful of the gaps between theory and practice, rhetoric and reality, and policy and practice, in regard to the implementation of restorative approaches. Overall, he argued, we must remember to be careful to mitigate the risks of their development and growing use. Nigel then described the work of Leeds City Council in its quest to become a ‘child-friendly city’, outlining the importance of restorative practices to achieve this end. To end the session, Belinda spoke about the use of restorative practices with young people in schools and other settings, and the need for organisations to adopt them internally as well, such as through the proactive use of circle processes for internal dialogue and relationship building.

This was followed by a breakout session, split into two parts across nineteen tables. For the first half, attendees organised themselves according to sector, while in the second half, groups were made up of people from different sectors. In both parts, a facilitator was selected for each table to invite the groups to respond to a series of pre-determined questions. These questions related to the restorative city project, the enablers and barriers to restorative practice implementation, the importance of research and evaluation, and the nature of future inter- and intra-sector collaboration between organisations at a local level.

The first session after lunch involved speeches by Jon Collins, CEO of the Restorative Justice Council, and Prof. Joanna Shapland from the University of Sheffield. The former outlined the work of his organisation in regulating and promoting the use of restorative practices across a number of sectors, including through the new Restorative Service Quality Mark. The latter ran through the methodology and main findings of her seminal research on the use of restorative justice with serious crime across England, commenting on positive findings relating to the views of victims and the effects on reoffending, as well as identifying some issues around implementation in policing and other criminal justice contexts.

The final sessions involved, firstly, a chance for participants to see and discuss the findings of the breakout sessions, and secondly, a panel discussion. The panel consisted of individuals working locally in children’s services, police, academia, schools and the local Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, each of whom gave a short talks, before an audience-led question and answer session.

Overall, the day was a huge success, allowing practitioners, policymakers and researchers from the City of Leeds to build contacts and relationships, to learn from each other, and to engage in knowledge exchange with individuals involved in similar ventures elsewhere in the country. Towards the end of the day, Prof. Crawford commented that many delegates had expressed the desire to use the conference as a launchpad for a local practitioner’s network, leading one delegate to announce that such a network had recently been created: the practitioner-led Leeds Restorative Hub. It is hoped that, in the coming months, this existing infrastructure can be used to bring people from across the City of Leeds together in the way clearly desired by so many of the day’s delegates.

After the event, Jim Hopkinson, Leeds Children’s Services, stated:

“I have had nothing but positive feedback from those from Leeds Children’s Services who attended this conference, and the consensus is that it exceeded expectations. For a long time, we have been grappling with the interface between our ambitions to develop stronger restorative practice alongside high quality restorative justice. The excellent keynote speakers and table exercises achieved a greater understanding of this ambition. Restorative practice is predicated on relationships and conversations, and this conference provided a myriad of opportunities to develop new relationships and new conversations. I have no doubt that this will lead to stronger practice.”

As students, we all benefitted greatly from our attendance at the conference, allowing us to speak with and learn from those who are engaged in the activities we are studying. We always try to take advantage of opportunities to discover how our classroom learning and research applies to the real world, and this was certainly a fantastic opportunity to do just that.

This piece was co-written by Emma McNamara, Jeremy Leathwood-Hill and Emma Reid (B.A. Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Leeds) and Ian Marder (Ph.D. Student in Criminal Justice, University of Leeds)

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