An Exploratory Study of Understandings and Experiences of Implementing Restorative Practice in Three UK Prisons

Published 25/03/2021
Type Article
Author(s) Charlotte Calkin
Corresponding Authors

The aim of this research is to examine the meanings and impact of implementing restorative practice (RP) within three prisons from the perspectives of prisoners and staff. The prisons were selected as they demonstrate outwardly a commitment to RP and also are indicative of good cultures, according to recent MoJ data. The methodology is qualitative, using a variety of research techniques including semi-structured interviews and observation. The paper also studies the available literature on restorative justice (RJ) in prisons and compares it to the literature on embedding RP in schools which has received more empirical research attention. The paper illustrates that the school’s literature could benefit custodial settings.

The key findings demonstrate benefits experienced by both residents and staff when RP is implemented; implemented well, RP delivers and supports a culture of fairness, avoiding or defusing confrontation and contributing to constructive approaches to prison and post-release life and relationships. However, there is widespread confusion as to the definition of RP and what constitutes RP. Few staff are trained and assumptions about restorative justice hamper the possibilities of RP. RP does not sit at the heart of the prisons’ philosophy, as in schools identifying as ‘restorative’. Instead, they use RP as a form of social ‘lubricant’, managing challenges as they arise through the discretion of those capable of employing RP. In conclusion, the paper makes recommendations based on the findings for further embedding RP across the secure estate.