Training for officers new to community policing needed, review of the CRJI finds

Induction training for officers new to community policing roles should be developed to explain “the ethos of community-based restorative justice”, according to an independent review of the operation and management of Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJI).

May 25, 2023
By Paul Jacques

It is among a number of recommendations made by inspectors in the report published on Thursday (May 25) to improve oversight, corporate governance, record keeping and communication with partner organisations from the criminal justice system.

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) Deputy Chief Inspector James Corrigan said while the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had been positive about its working relationship with CRJI and its aligned schemes, “there was no formal policy setting out the working relationship between the two organisations”.

“This lack of clarity led some police officers to establish their own working relationships while others were reluctant to engage because they were unclear what their remit was concerning their partnership,” he said.

“We have recommended that inside the next six months the PSNI and CRJI should draft a formal document setting out the nature of their relationship and respective remits when working in partnership.

“Induction training for police officers new to community policing roles should be developed to explain the ethos of community-based restorative justice, the working relationship and develop points of contact in the organisation.”

Inspectors have also recommended that the PSNI takes steps to ensure community-based restorative justice is recorded as a diversionary disposal on criminal records and remind police officers to complete referral forms when cases are referred to community-based restorative justice organisations for action.

Communication with the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) also requires improvement with Inspectors recommending appropriate people be identified in both organisations and regular meetings scheduled to clarify information sharing and reporting expectations around PBNI-funded work undertaken by CRJI.

Inspectors from CJI undertook the review at the request of the former Minister of Justice, Naomi Long MLA, after concerns were raised about financial irregularities, staffing issues and the management and operation of CRJI that were negatively impacting on public confidence.

“During this review inspectors sought to determine to what extent CRJI was complying with the Protocol for Community Based Restorative Justice Schemes published by the Northern Ireland Office in 2007, as many of the organisations providing funding to CRJI took assurance from its accreditation under the Protocol,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.

“We also assessed work undertaken in partnership with criminal justice organisations, the quality of CRJI’s work generally and looked at how public money was being used.”

As part of the review, inspectors examined the operation and practice of two community-based restorative justice schemes aligned with CRJI operating in Derry/Londonderry and Newry/Armagh areas as they shared policies and other resources with CRJI in Belfast.

Inspectors found that prior to the start of the review CRJI had taken steps to address failings in its accounting practices by appointing an experienced treasurer and financial officer, implementing a revised financial policy and engaging an external accountancy firm to manage its payroll and pension systems.

Human resource and governance policies had also been overhauled and efforts made to improve the skills of CRJI’s board of directors linked to their roles and responsibilities.

“The work already undertaken by CRJI is positive and we acknowledge the progress the organisation has already made, but more remains to be done,” said Ms Durkin.

Speaking about the review findings, Mr Corrigan said: “We identified that the working relationship between CRJI and the Department of Justice (DoJ) was not effective with only limited engagement taking place. Records we examined showed that the last meeting between CRJI and the DoJ was held in January 2020 – about 18 months before the concerns about CRJI arose.

“The DoJ have accepted their oversight of CRJI has been lacking.

“We have recommended this is addressed.  Work should be undertaken inside one month to conduct a risk assessment to determine the appropriate level of oversight required of CRJI by the DoJ, develop a schedule of monitoring meetings for the year ahead and the structure of quarterly reports provided by CRJI to the DoJ, to include how funding has been spent.”

The deputy chief inspector said inspectors had found CRJI and its accredited schemes to be “mostly compliant with the 2007 Protocol”.

“We were assured that the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland and the PSNI could make referrals to the schemes in confidence, however, we found only four referrals had been made to CRJI in the 13 years since their accreditation,” Mr Corrigan said.

“As a result, the schemes have undertaken a range of other projects and work that cuts across the criminal justice system but may not be funded by it.”

Mr Corrigan said inspectors found that communities relied on the schemes to deal with matters that did not meet the standard for statutory intervention and that they were providing services to the community that were not provided by other groups or organisations.

“Inspectors were impressed by the attitude of staff to ongoing learning and restorative practice and their dedication to the work that they undertook,” said Ms Durkin.

“However, it is equally important that community-based restorative justice schemes provide greater transparency around what they do, the governance standards required to foster public confidence in the work they undertake to support of community safety and how public money is being spent.”

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