A pioneering approach to getting offenders to make amends for their wrongdoing is not only helping to drive down crime, but is proving popular with victims too, figures have revealed.

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Norfolk Constabulary is committed to becoming part of the first truly restorative county in the country by 2015 and has been singled out as a force which actively promotes restorative justice by bringing victims and offenders together to discuss an outcome without it having to go through the court system.

More than 17,000 people have been through the restorative justice process since November 2007 with a total of 4,611 interventions.

Figures released by Norfolk police for the last quarter show that just 10.4pc of children and young people and 14pc of adults dealt with through the restorative approach go onto reoffend. They also show that:

<t> 85pc of victims said they had confidence in the police using restorative justice

<t> 89pc of participants were satisfied with the outcome

<t> 87pc of participants feel restorative justice is effective in dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour

<t> 93pc of particants are satisfied with their treatment

<t> 83pc of participants are confident in the ability of police and partners to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour having been exposed to restorative justice

Chief Constable Phil Gormley said: “In Norfolk, the results so far speak for themselves with 85pc of victims saying they have confidence in the police using restorative justice.

“Prosecution before the courts is not always the right answer to minor offences or in particular circumstances. We will continue to monitor the use of restorative justice in the county, preserving the ability for police officers to use their professional judgement and discretion.”

The restorative approach involves asking offenders to apologise to victims and make amends for their wrong-doing which police say can prevent youngsters ending up being “criminalised” and being locked into a cycle of crime and court appearances.

Extreme cases in the county include a four-year-old boy responsible for criminal damage, an eight-year-old burglar and two nine-year-olds who were accused of violence last year.

At the other end of the spectrum, restorative justice has been used with criminals up to 85 years old, often for anti-social behaviour.

Peter Merry, head of criminal justice at Norfolk and Suffolk Police, said: “We utilise restorative justice to deliver an outcome that is valued by the victim, makes a difference to the community and which impacts positively on offending behaviour.

“We use the professionalism, commitment, dedication, judgement, skills and training of our staff, those of partner agencies and our citizens themselves to make a real difference to the communities of Norfolk. It’s about listening and responding to the needs of those we serve fairly and inclusively, as a collective.”

In Norfolk, which has been singled out as a force that promotes restorative justice by Her Majestey’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, there are 740 officers and Police Community Officers (PCSOs) trained in being able to undertake restorative interventions.

Interventions can be held to resolve simple disputes between two parties on the street, known as street RJ, or where the issue affects several people in the community, known as a conference RJ.

Both street and conference RJs allow the offender and the victims to meet and resolve their differences without the matter having to go to court.

There are also specialist conferences which can be held for victims and offenders of more serious crimes, like murder, which can be initiated post sentence if both parties are willing and want closure.

To date there have been more than 4,000 restorative conferences where the offender and victim, aided by an RJ facilitator, have met and agreed an outcome.

The process also offers good value for money with an average restorative justice intervention costing £25 per person compared to £1,036 for each person placed through the court system.

It also saves time for the officer who can spend the time they would have done arresting and completing the paper work on dealing with other crimes.

In Norfolk the advent of restorative justice has also seen the setting up of restorative surgeries in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn.

Surgeries are used by police to deal with conference RJs which are unable to be sorted out on the street there and then, but can be discussed at a later date.

All of Norfolk’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams have the ability to use restorative justice to address crime issues and anti-social behaviour with members of the panels being asked to come up with ideas to ensure that those caught for minor offences can make a positive contribution to society.

The approach, which was trialled in Norfolk, is based on the justice system used by aboriginal tribes, and has seen officers speaking with members of society to learn how they think offenders should pay their debt.

Examples of punishments currently being used include youngsters who have been caught spraying graffiti tags in Norwich are used by the city centre Safer Neighbourhood Team to help clean it off.

Norfolk police, the first police accredited Restorative Approaches training provider in the UK, has also helped train 40 members of partner agencies like district and county councils in terms of adopting a restorative approach more widely.

It is hoped that by 2015 the police, together with agencies like county and district councils, can adopt a restorative approach in terms of the way it deals with people and problems in terms of bringing people together to deal with issues.

Jo Church, county volunteer co-ordinator for the Norfolk Youth Offending Team, which works with youths who have been referred to them following appearances in court, said restorative justice did work and was working in Norfolk.

She said: “It makes a huge difference with the work we do with young people. We focus on the three Rs - responsibility, reparation and reintegration.

“In terms of the work we do with young people and volunteers who are members of the local community we put an awful lot of emphasis on restorative justice. It really does work, it’s so effective. Restorative justice is all about repairing the harm caused, listening to the victim, matching up the two sides and making sure something positive comes from that.”

Earlier this year Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb wrote to justice secretary Ken Clarke urging him to visit the county to see for himself how it is leading the way in the use of restorative justice.

In April Mr Gormley backed calls for the government to enhance the role of restorative justice in sentencing reforms planned for this autumn.

Mr Merry said: “Restorative Justice works when used appropriately and delivered in partnership with our communities and criminal justice partners.

“We have proved it works and we will continue to find ways to ensure it remains a viable and effective strategy to dealing with harm that is caused. It’s not just about crime or anti-social behaviour - it’s about listening to the needs of our communities and looking at how we can improve people’s quality of life.”

He added: “It can be so effective because it offers communities the chance to resolve their own problems, bringing together victims, offenders and the wider community. It recognises an incident has happened, looks at what has gone wrong and why it has gone wrong, repairs the harm and puts things in place to ensure it does not happen again.”

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