Reparations cut crime, report says

Criminal justice organisations should follow Norfolk's example and make more criminals meet their victims face-to-face to prevent further offending, according to a report published yesterday.

Criminal justice organisations should follow Norfolk's example and make more criminals meet their victims face-to-face to prevent further offending, according to a report published yesterday.

Experts called for restorative justice schemes to be extended nationwide to reduce crime and help victims see justice being done. Such schemes have been in place in Norfolk for seven years and are used in more than 400 cases involving young people in the county each year.

The report, led by Prof Lawrence Sherman from Cambridge University, found that serious offenders tended to benefit more from the schemes.

Courts already have the option of arranging meetings between offenders and their victims, but the schemes are not widely used nationwide because of doubts that they help to cut crime.

Chris Small, deputy head of service at Norfolk Youth Offending Team (YOT), said: "This technique can be used in a whole range of cases, starting with conflict and bullying in schools right up to violent offences. It is often used alongside more traditional punishments.

"We always include a reparative element - for example a vandal may be asked to repair the damage they have done - but, on top of physically putting right the damage done, young people are forced to see the consequences of their actions.

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"We consult victims over their wishes and wherever possible use this feedback to ensure they are happy with the outcome. If victims are not comfortable meeting face-to-face, they can be sent a letter of apology or communicate their feelings through a third party.

"Not only does this help the victim but it also makes it less likely that a criminal will go on to reoffend - particularly in the case of young people.

"We have seen very positive results in recent years and more and more cases are being dealt with in this way."

About 1,000 offences are referred to Norfolk YOT each year. Many of these have no identifiable victim but all of those that do are considered for a restorative approach.

Although these cases involve young people, yesterday's report suggests such initiatives could be used more widely in cases involving adults. This could lead to substantial reductions in reoffending.

Lucie Russell, director of Smart Justice, which promotes "community solutions" to crime, welcomed the report. She said: "The criminal justice system distances offenders from the impact of their crimes, so they often don't know what they have actually done to their victims. Restorative justice makes offenders face up to the impact of their offending.

"It also gives victims the chance to explain the effect of the crime on them. This scheme needs to be widened. It is much better than the current system, which leaves a great distance between the offenders and their victims."