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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 04:44 GMT
Does community justice work?
By Nadene Ghouri
BBC Five Live

David Fletcher
Judge David Fletcher tries to build up a relationship with offenders
A new community court in Liverpool has been pioneering a new form of justice with a single judge and allowing local people to have their say.

Five Live Report's Nadene Ghouri has followed some of the first cases in the court to find out whether the project can really reduce reoffending.

"I never thought I'd be in there so young. It was a shock. I missed my dog. And my mum."

Looking visibly shaken, 14-year-old Michael - not his real name - describes his first time in a secure unit for young offenders.

He has just been released from Dyson Hall secure unit for children after two weeks on remand.

Michael's angelic looks belie his history of repeat offences for anti-social behaviour. He is the type of teen offender Tony Blair wants to tackle as part of his "respect" agenda.

Michael was fortunate to be sentenced at the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, which is taking a brand new approach to dealing with crime.

The Community Justice Centre - or CJC - is set in a former school in the middle of a housing estate.

Judge Fletcher doesn't want to put you in jail

Inspired by a project in one of New York's toughest neighbourhoods, the pilot aims to put justice right at the heart of the community.

Sitting in the living room with his puppy Cloey, Michael knows he is lucky to be sleeping in his own bed tonight - even if he has to put up with an electronic tag, supervision and curfew orders.

And he wants to thank the judge who spared him further custody - David Fletcher

"Judge Fletcher doesn't want to put you in jail. He tries to keep you out of jail. He gets to know you more. He knows me."

The CJC is an alternative to the local magistrate's court, but there is just one judge - the aforementioned David Fletcher.

Wherever possible offenders are given non-custodial community sentences, and at least once a month they have to come back to review their progress with the judge.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair launched his respect agenda last year

It is the type of tough community punishments - which makes offenders give something back to society - that Home Secretary Charles Clarke has said he wants to see more of.

Judge David Fletcher explains why he thinks that review process works: "I really feel that build-up of a relationship is important.

"If they are doing well the ability to say 'congratulations, well done, you are making effort to change' seems to affect them in a very positive way.

"They then feel if they fall away they are actually letting me down."

Heroin addict Damien, 29, is in the 11th month of a 12-month supervision order.

He is at the CJC for his monthly review. He thinks the pressure of seeing the same judge regularly has helped him stay out of further trouble.

Avoid prison

"Judge Fletcher knows me so when he sees me each month he knows me as an individual. If I were in the city centre court it'd be a different judge every month.

"If you give one a story, the next month you can give the same story because it will be a different magistrate whereas with Fletcher you couldn't tell him two different stories because he knows what you told him last month and the month beforehand.

"I'd rather have that. A judge who knows what I'm like and my background. The magistrates are just there to put you in prison."

I don't think kids need to go to jail.

Another radical aspect to the CJC is that it allows local people to have a say in how justice gets done locally.

Bi-monthly the judge meets with local residents who tell him which crimes are making their lives a misery and what they think needs to be done about it.

There is also a teenagers' advisory group - made up of young offenders and local schoolchildren - designed to help the judge and his team get inside the minds of teenagers who commit crime.

Fourteen-year-old Karen - not her real name - is an ex-offender now helping to advise Judge Fletcher.

She said: "It is a bit mad, but it does need to happen because they think they know how to punish kids but they don't. I don't think kids need to go to jail. They need to be watched. That will help them more in the end."

Liverpool Police and the probation service say anecdotal evidence suggests the system is cutting crime locally.

The government will be publishing more official statistics later in the spring. And if they show that CJCs are working, they could be rolled out across the country.

Nadene Ghouri's report, Community Justice can be heard on Five Live Report on Sunday 19 February at 1100 GMT and 1930GMT and will also be available at the Five Live Report website.

Community court officially opened
20 Oct 05 |  Merseyside


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