Hear our stories: how restorative justice can change the face of the criminal justice system
Jack, Revolving Doors lived experience member
Restorative justice can be a life-changing experience for those involved in it. Despite its effectiveness and cost-efficiency, restorative justice remains vastly underused in the UK. In this piece, Jack, a Revolving Doors lived experience member, shares how restorative justice helped him break the cycle of crisis and crime that he was stuck in for nearly 30 years and makes the case for more preventative approaches to repeat, low-level crime.
I remember the dread when I walked into that room, with prison officers on one side, the restorative justice team on another, along with the victims of the crimes I had committed. Before I had always thought of them as faceless. I nearly ran away that day. I was feeling very exposed and vulnerable. I had been committing petty theft to fund my addiction for nearly thirty years which culminated in more serious acquisitive crime. Now, I was facing the people who had been impacted by my crimes and hearing the pain I caused coming straight from their mouths.
I had always thought about the impact of my actions as being only material, until I got to hear how it affected other people. The truth they were hitting me with was like a hammer but, looking back, I thank them, and myself, for finding the strength to hear each other’s stories. They also felt my pain and inability to cope, and the extent to which my behaviour had been driven by problems with drugs and difficult life circumstances. At the end of the meeting, we fell into each other’s arms, and they wished me well. After that meeting, it was clear to me that I would never commit a crime again.
This is called restorative justice – a process which brings those harmed by crime together with those responsible for the harm, enabling everyone to play a part in healing and finding a positive way forward.
A frightening yet truly life-changing experience for me, restorative justice has shown its potential as a more effective and cost-efficient approach to crime.
Research has shown not only that it has overwhelmingly positive outcomes for both parties, but it can also significantly reduce repeat crime, meaning there are also significant savings to be gained. 
Despite such encouraging results, restorative justice remains underused in the UK and is offered to very few people. I remember seeing it advertised in prison; I didn’t know much about it until that one prison officer sat me down and talked me through the process. He told me: “You’re a good person, Jack. Why does this keep happening to you?” He must have understood that nothing else had worked for me – and he was right. I went to anger management courses, had rehabilitation orders, community services, and custodial sentences… but none of these succeeded in helping me break the cycle of substance use and crime that I was stuck in. Restorative justice came at a point in my life where I had just had enough. I was coming back to prison time and again, and I kept repeating the same behaviours. I felt lost. I was grieving my Dad, and was stuck in a loop of constantly wondering how I was going to source drugs for the day – shoplifting and acquisitive crime was the answer. I felt like I had lost all choice and was powerless in life.
Restorative justice was the opportunity to have my story heard, but it took me much longer to overcome my problems with drugs. Putting someone in prison, only forces a physical withdrawal. It only takes the choice to use drugs or not away from the person, but the feeling of wanting to use drugs remains. When I got released, I was thrown in at the deep end without any support or intervention for my mental health. What drove me to use drugs to escape my reality – and what fuelled my crimes in the first place – was left unaddressed.
For many, my story will highlight the infinite possibilities of restorative justice as a means to break the cycle of crisis and crime, rather than relying solely on punitive measures that stifle human potential. And it certainly does. But it also highlights the impact that one individual can have on your journey: were it not for the compassionate guidance provided by a prison officer who patiently walked me through the restorative justice process, I may not be where I am today. Much more can be done to increase awareness and take-up of restorative justice, but also to address the root causes of crime, such as problems with drugs. How many more people will have to wait thirty years to be offered that same chance at another life, let alone receive the intervention they need to address the underlying causes of their crimes? Our criminal justice system should not be a game of luck. Being offered the opportunity to take part in restorative justice, just like getting support to overcome problems with drugs can be life-changing – but not if they are left to fate.
For more information about our lived experience opportunities, click here.
 Jack is an alias used to protect anonymity.
 A Ministry of Justice evaluation found that restorative justice reduced risks of reoffending by 14 points. It also showed that 85% of victims and 74% of offenders were satisfied with the process of coming together, with 62% of victims feeling that restorative justice had made them feel better after an incident of crime while just 2% felt it had made them feel worse.