Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

Victim meetings 'cut' youth crime

Youth in hoodie
Youths guilty of criminal damage met their victims under the NI scheme

Bringing young criminals face-to-face with their victims can cut crime and re-offending, campaigners suggest.

A Northern Ireland restorative justice scheme run since 2003 has proved more effective at changing behaviour than custody, the Prison Reform Trust says.

It wants similar initiatives for 10-17 year-olds in England and Wales to be centralised and open to more than just first time and minor offenders.

The Ministry of Justice has welcomed the report.

Under the restorative justice approach, offenders formally recognise the consequences of their actions and apologise to victims.

The meetings can be take place as part of a court procedure or be in lieu of a prosecution.

Participants in Northern Ireland's Youth Conference process have also been ordered to pay compensation, take part in educational activities and unpaid work, or made to have treatment for alcohol, drug, or mental health problems.

Victims' approval

More than 5,500 meetings between victims and offenders have taken place in Northern Ireland since 2003.

Figures for the 2003 to 2005 period show the top offence to be dealt with was assault, with 25% of offences referred.

This was followed by criminal damage at 19% and theft at 17%. Just 6% of burglaries and 0.5% of robberies ended in such an approach.

Some 38% of 10 to 17 year olds participating in the scheme in Northern Ireland in 2006 re-offended within a year, compared to 71% of those given custodial terms.

The percentage of those re-offending where restorative justice was used instead of a prosecution was 28%.

In a report, the PRT said many victims were found to prefer the experience of participating in a restorative justice meeting to attending court.

It added: "In Northern Ireland, there appears to be a high level of public support for restorative justice as a method of dealing with young offenders.

"Effective public engagement may be critical to the success of any attempt to expand the role of restorative justice within the youth justice system of England and Wales."

PRT director Juliet Lyon said: "It's all too easy to say that nothing works with young offenders whereas we can learn from successful work in Northern Ireland that a structured system of restorative justice cuts youth crime and satisfies victims.

"Most people would support the idea of young people having to face up to the harm they have done and working hard to make amends."

The Ministry of Justice welcomed the report and said that while its approach was to stop young people from turning to crime, restorative justice is playing a key role.

A spokesperson said: "We have seen a decline in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time, and the frequency of re-offending has fallen by 23.6% since 2000.

"But we recognise there is more to do. We will be using the findings of this report to further improve our work with the police, local authorities, communities and other frontline agencies."

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