The number of young people being dealt with for the first time by the youth justice system has fallen dramatically.

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It means fewer youngsters aged 10 to 17 are being saddled with a criminal record during their early years.

Between April 2007 and March 2008, there were 2,061 per 100,000 young people in Norfolk entering the youth justice system for the first time.

By March 2011, that figure had dropped by 50pc to 1,022 per 100,000 young people, with a further dip of 29pc to 731 by March this year.

Alison Thomas, (pictured below) cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said helping youngsters to avoid a criminal record early on could have a significant impact on the rest of their lives.

She said: “Unfortunately, the statistics show that young people that get involved in youth offending are more likely to go on to become an adult offender – and therefore don’t get into work and have a fulfilling life.”

While part of the reduction can be put down to a general decrease in crime and anti-social behaviour across the country during that period, Norfolk’s youth offending team believes early intervention work and the county’s pioneering use of restorative approaches had also had a big impact.

The youth offending team works with representatives from Norfolk County Council, the police, the probation trust and health agencies to reduce youth crime.

Mrs Thomas said: “The success in the reduction of young people coming into the criminal justice system is down to the fact that everybody is pulling their weight. It’s well co-ordinated, multi-agency work.”

Two of the most important and effective methods used by the teams have been early intervention work by the Youth Inclusion and Support Panels (Yisp) and the use of restorative justice.

The Yisp works with young people and their families to try to stamp out behaviour that could lead to crime in the future as early as possible.

They work with children aged 10 to 14 who may have been identified by their school or the police as being at risk of entering the youth justice system.

It could begin with something as simple as leaving school at lunchtime when they are not supposed to or hanging around with their friends outside the post office in the evenings when older people might find it intimidating.

Mrs Thomas said: “We know they’re not doing anything wrong.

“But it’s working with everybody to get them to understand how some of this low level stuff, if you don’t acknowledge it, can lead to involvement in things that are more serious.”

When it comes to restorative justice, Norfolk has been leading the way.

The approach is now used in a variety of settings from low-level offenders being put in touch with victims of crime via the police to playground bullies being made to confront the people they have hurt.

All Norfolk’s schools are aiming to be using restorative approaches by 2015. Supt Stuart Gunn, head of community safety at Norfolk Police, said: “The aim in the long-run is to prevent re-offending by making them understand the impact of what they have done. If that person can have empathy for the victim, then it can be a success.”

The officer said restorative justice was not about helping people get away without punishment.

The approach is only ever used for low-level offences, with people who have not been involved with crime before, and when the victim agrees.

But it has been found to help significantly reduce re-offending rates by making people think about their actions and the impact they have on others.

He said: “It’s not the soft touch people think it is. They have to face up to their victim – often that’s the worst part.”

Norfolk’s youth offending team – which aims to intervene with young people “in the right way at the right time and to help them achieve their full potential in life” – has also found re-offending rates among 10 to 17-year-olds have dropped.

Between October 2008 and September 2009, 510 young people re-offended. For the same period the following year, that was down to 460.

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