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20 April 2012

People want offenders to make amends, new poll reveals

ICM survey results offer massive vote of support for community payback and restorative justice.

The results of an ICM telephone poll of 1,000 members of the public, conducted one month after the riots in England, show overwhelming popular support for constructive ways in which offenders can make amends to victims for the harm they have caused.

As the House of Commons today (Thursday 15 September) debates proposals on sentencing in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, before rising to allow members to attend party conferences, the poll reveals a huge majority of the public (94%) support opportunities for offenders who have committed offences such as theft or vandalism to do unpaid work in the community, as part of their sentence, to pay back for what they have done.

Restorative measures, giving victims the opportunity to inform offenders of the harm caused and a say in how the offender can best make amends, attracted strong support. Nearly nine out of 10 people (88%) agree that victims of theft and vandalism should be given the opportunity to inform offenders of the harm and distress they have caused.

Almost three quarters (71%) believe victims should have a say in how the offender can best make amends for the harm they have caused.

There was widespread support for a range of measures to prevent crime and disorder. Most people (84%) feel that better supervision of young people by parents would be effective in preventing crime and disorder, and large majorities back better mental health care (80%) or making amends to victims (79%). Unpaid community work (76%) and treatment to tackle drug addiction (74%) also received strong support. Only 65% think a prison sentence would be effective. One in four thinks expressly that it would not be effective.

As a briefing published with the poll highlights, politicians of all stripes have declared their support for restorative justice and community payback. These include the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Home Secretary Theresa May, the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, the Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, the former Justice Secretary Jack Straw and the former Home Secretary David Blunkett. A full list of quotes is provided in the briefing.

With a growing popular and political consensus that restorative justice should have an established place in the criminal justice system – both as a preventative measure and as a sentence of the courts – the briefing calls on the government to use the Bill to fulfil its promise to expand the opportunities for victims to benefit from restorative justice.

It also calls for specific duties for the court to explain its consideration of the thresholds for imposing a custodial sentence or community order to be retained to ensure community sentences are robust and effective.

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

The conference season is usually a time for political point scoring but these sweeping poll results show that, when it comes to offenders making amends, there is more for politicians to agree on than to argue about. With a justice bill before parliament, there is scope for a profound change in the way we respond to crime and disorder that would both improve victim satisfaction and reduce reoffending.

Javed Khan, the Chief Executive of Victim Support, said:

We have for many years supported restorative justice projects up and down the country. We know that one of the greatest benefits of restorative justice is to victims of crime and that satisfaction rates among victims are particularly high when it is victim led.