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Restorative Justice Innovations by the Thames Valley Police Force

The Thames Valley Police Force has led the movement toward restorative justice in the United Kingdom by shifting to a problem-solving paradigm.

The largest non-metropolitan force in  the country, Thames Valley  uses the flexibility and creativity of restorative justice to

  • reform certain police practices, 

  • build a stronger community,

  • establish new ways of thinking about resolving conflicts in all areas of life.

Thames Valley developments include restorative cautioning, conferencing, restorative approaches to internal and external complaints, and promotion of restorative principles in other agencies. 


The use of restorative justice grew out of concern with the traditional “police cautioning” practice widely used in England and Wales. Although cautioning was an official manner of dealing with young offenders, a wide variety of practices had developed throughout the country due to a lack of training. Problems included lack of due process and victim dissatisfaction.

Starting in the mid-1990s, the Thames Valley force responded to these and other criticisms of the justice system through problem solving initiatives. Certain community and police service projects led to the inclusion of restorative justice in the system.

  • The Milton Keynes Retail Theft Initiative, which consisted of meetings between an offender and a store manager (not necessarily the one victimized) to discuss the crime and its impact.  This was seen as a more cost-efficient method of dealing with shoplifting than cautioning or going through the court process.
  • Aylesbury Conferencing - a pilot project developed after a 1994 seminar by Terry O’Connell, of the New South Wales police, on the model of scripted conferencing that he developed in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Some Aylesbury officers used this information to develop their own scripted conference practice.
  • O'Connell returned in 1996 to train Thames Valley officers in restorative conferencing leading to the1997 establishment of the Restorative Justice Consultancy to advise on the expansion of restorative justice. Since April 1998,  all cautions a have been given delivered using restorative practices.

The Thames Valley Model 

The Thames Valley model consists of four different practices used under various conditions. Officials choose which practice to use depending on the seriousness and impact of the crime on the victim and the community and the willingness of these parties to participate. The practices used are: 

Community Conferencing is used when there is a strong impact on the community. Participants include community members, the victim, victim supporters, and the offender and offender supporters.  

Restorative Conferencing is used when there is a significant impact on the victim. Participants include the victim and supporters and the offender and supporters. 

Restorative Cautioning takes place with out direct in put of the victim. Participants include the offender and family, and possibly significant others to aid in presenting a victim view.

Instant Cautioning is a non-restorative caution used in minor cases. It does not take the victim’s or the communities view into consideration.

Each of these options involves a trained police officer as facilitator. The conference/caution script provides a series of questions designed to lead the offender to think about his or her actions. Ideally, the restorative approach emphasizes the impact of a crime in the community and on the victim while ensuring that the action is condemned, not the offender. Oxford University's Centre for Criminological Research has recently completed an evaluation of the initiative, the findings of which are due for publication in 2002.

Further Developments 

In 1999, the Thames Valley Force along with the Police Complaints Authority started the Restorative Justice and Police Complaints project. This project grew out of the recognition that restorative processes could help resolve problems surrounding misconduct and complaints against the police. The project was hindered by legislation forbidding the use of alternative approaches to police complaints. However, the process was approved as a tool in the following cases:

  • Minor complaints suitable for informal resolution  

  •  Complaints resulting in advice, written warning, or a misconduct trial 

  •  Internal investigations resulting in advice, written warning, or a misconduct trial     

  • Misconduct trials or guilty pleas.

In each situation the restorative conference is an option to augment the traditional process. These options are one way of dealing with the criticisms of the complaints process.  The pilot project shows potential by: 

  • Allowing complainants to express their feelings and views      

  • Giving officers an opportunity to understand why the complaint was leveled  

  • Providing a forum for dissolving tensions over conduct among coworkers.

The force is working with a variety of partner agencies to investigate the potential of restorative justice as a conflict resolution tool in other areas, i.e. schools, and as a means of resolving harmful behaviors arising out of neighborhood disputes.



Sources used in this article. 

H.M. Inspectorate of Constabulary. 1998. “Thames Valley Police.” Primary Inspection- September. 

Dobry, Josephine. 2001. “Restorative Justice and Police Complaints. A Report by the Independent Police Complaints Authority.” 

Pollard, Charles. 2000. “Restorative Justice and Police Complaints.”  

Thames Valley Partnership. 1999. “Restoring the Balance: A Handbook on Restorative Approaches in Community Safety.”


By Lynette Parker

November 2001


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