Concerns over high reconviction rates and a record prison population have prompted the government and campaigners to look for innovative ways of managing young offenders in the community.
One project in Suffolk has been recognised as one of the most effective in the country at getting young people to make amends to their victims through using restorative justice.
The Suffolk Reparation and Mediation Service was recently given an award by the influential campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform for its “outstanding” work.
The service, run by Crime Concern, which began in November 2003, consults with victims of crime about how they would like to see offenders make amends in the community.
“We undertake various pieces of work in line with their wishes,” says Karen Hammond, who works with the service. “This could be letters of apology of explanation from the young person or a face-to-face meeting facilitated by our trained mediators, which is a very powerful experience for both the victim and the young person.
The scheme encourages and supports young people to take responsibility for their offending behaviour and provides them with “achievable” opportunities that are valued in the community.
Since the scheme began, young offenders have been put to work at a variety of places including local nature reserves and other countryside areas.
“We encourage the young person to carry out work with charities where possible if the victim requests this, or in some cases repairing the damage they have caused to the victim’s property,” Hammond explains.
The scheme, which has been running since November 2003, takes around 55 referrals a month from Suffolk Youth Offending Team and employs around nine staff and around 25 volunteers.
The community response has been “excellent,” Hammond says. “We receive fantastic feedback from the victims we work with and some of them have even gone on to offer future work opportunities to our young people on a regular basis.”
• The Howard League for Penal Reform is seeking new entries for its community programmes award 2006. See: www.howardleague.org