Restorative justice and empathy-based interventions for animal welfare and wildlife crimes

This review summarises the available evidence on the use of community-based restorative justice and empathy-based interventions in animal welfare and wildlife crimes.

1. Introduction

This review explores how specific interventions, involving restorative justice and empathy training, could be used for animal welfare and wildlife crime offences. The research follows the passing of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act on 17 June 2020. The Scottish Government has further committed to making restorative and reparative justice interventions widely available for the Scottish population by 2023, through its Restorative Justice Action Plan.[1]

Studies have shown that restorative justice interventions and empathy-based training may reduce reoffending, provide redress for the victims, and repair relationships to the community. The vast majority of these and the related studies, however, focus on crimes between humans. There is limited knowledge of the effectiveness of these forms of interventions in reducing reoffending for animal welfare and wildlife offences. This review summarises the available evidence.

1.1 Non-custodial interventions in Scotland

Non-custodial interventions are sentences or other interventions that do not involve incarceration or imprisonment of the individual involved. Alternatives to custody can include admonishments,[2] fines or compensation orders, Community Payback Orders, or diversion from prosecution.[3] They may incorporate voluntary measures, as well as empathy-based training courses and restorative justice approaches.

As alternatives to prison, non-custodial sentences or interventions have been widely used in Scotland for decades. For over 75,000 convictions between 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020, only 15% resulted in a custodial sentence.[4] Research has also shown that community sentences are generally well supported by the public, who appreciate 'the positive value of making offenders return to the scenes of their crimes to repair criminal damage'.[5]

Figure 1. The most popular sentence imposed in Scottish courts in 2019-20 was financial penalties
Sentences imposed in courts (2019-20)

Source: Scottish Government (2021) Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2019-20

Restorative justice and empathy-based interventions are two types of non-custodial interventions that are often used in combination with other interventions. Restorative justice is a process of independent, facilitated contact, which supports constructive dialogue between a victim and a person who has caused harm (whether this be an adult, a child, a young person or a representative of a corporate or other body) arising from an offence or alleged offence. Empathy-based training usually comprises of classes or courses designed to increase a person's ability to recognise other people's (or potentially beings') emotional state and to see others' points of view.

1.2 Animal welfare and wildlife offences in Scotland

873 criminal cases involving 1,065 persons were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) by the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) between 1 January 2011 and 23 July 2019.[6] The Procurator Fiscal dealt with at least 16.8% of charges by way of alternatives to prosecution, including a warning for 12.2% and a fiscal fine for 4.6%. For charges reported by the Scottish SPCA that resulted in a conviction at court:[7]

  • 64% resulted in a disqualification order, which can involve stopping individuals from owning or keeping, selling, transporting, or working with animals
  • 41% resulted in a fine
  • 22% resulted in a Community Payback Order, which may involve offenders requiring to undertake unpaid work; enter into treatment for mental health, drugs, or alcohol; or provide compensation to their victims

Figure 2 depicts the number of disposals[8] given in court (custody, community sentence, monetary or other) and number of non-criminal disposals (NCDs) (Fiscal fine or warning) given in 2019-2020, by the main crime or offence committed. Not all NCDs have been included in this figure.[9] As demonstrated, custodial sentences are rare for either domestic animal or wildlife related offences.

Figure 2. Monetary disposals were the most common disposal given for the majority of animal-related offences, whereas custody was only given for cruelty to animals (excluding dogs) and offences involving animals (excluding dogs & birds).
Disposals in courts and NCDs for animal-related offences (2019-20)

Source: Scottish Government Criminal Proceedings Database, 2021



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