Woodward Urged To Release Justice Funding

Shaun Woodward will today be urged by the first licensed restorative justice schemes to operate in the North to release state funding to enable them to operate.

Representatives of Northern Ireland Alternatives, who have been given official recognition by the British government to operate four schemes, will urge the Northern Ireland Secretary at the launch of their accreditation at Stormont to financially support programmes which aim communities to resolve low level crime and disputes without going to court.

Tom Winston of Northern Ireland Alternatives said: “Today marks the official launch of our accredited schemes and we are asking the Government to give us the funding we require.

“We believe community restorative justice is cost effective and can provide considerable savings to the criminal justice system.

“It costs tens of thousands of pounds to keep a young person in prison or a young offender’s centre. We cost only a fraction of that and if we can redirect an offender away from a life of crime, prevent them from going in and out of the courts and prison that will save the Government an absolute fortune.”

In May four schemes run by Northern Ireland Alternatives – East Belfast Alternatives; Greater Shankill Alternatives; North Belfast Alternatives and North Down Impact – were officially recognised after an independent inspection report said it was satisfied they would not be used as a front for paramilitary groups.

The licensed schemes will have cases referred to them from the police via the Public Prosecution Service to resolve.

Rival sides in disputes or victims and perpetrators of anti-social behaviour crimes are brought together to find a resolution.

Restorative justice schemes have until now operated in republican and loyalist communities with private funding.

No scheme based in a republican neighbourhood has as yet been accredited under the British government’s guidelines.

However concerns were expressed that paramilitaries may use the schemes as a vehicle to maintain their grip on communities.

Critics also expressed concern that some of the schemes have up until now mishandled crimes which should be dealt with by the police.

Mr Winston said reoffending rates of people using the schemes were also much lower than those who have to go through the criminal justice system.

“Reoffending rates within two years of prison run somewhere between 60% and 70%,” he claimed.

“Although our figures are not scientific, we appear to have a 10% reoffending rate.”