UK Police experiment


A pilot scheme which forces criminals to confront the victims of their

crimes is slashing re-offending rates in a UK town. A pilot project run by

Thames Valley Police near London, England is one of only three of its kind

in the world. It has achieved dramatic success. Of 167 offenders who took

part in the scheme last year, only 7 re-offended. Similar pilot schemes are

being run, with success, in Australia and the USA.


Convicted criminals, mostly young offenders (especially first offenders

caught stealing, shoplifting or taking automobiles) are required to attend

community conferences with their victims and acknowledge the harm they

caused them, often apologising and offering to make up for the harm they

have caused. The UK police force copied the idea from a similar scheme in

Australia and launched trials in the town of Aylesbury.


Police Officer Bob Gregory, who runs the project in Aylesbury, said: "The

victim has a choice whether to take part, but the majority do. It gives

them the chance to vent their spleen and to have their questions answered.

For the offender, to sit in a room with a victim, someone you have

violated, is incredibly difficult. The 'shaming' factor is increased

because offenders are required to attend with relatives, mostly parents,

but also wives, partners or brothers and sisters. A police officer runs the

sessions which can last from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The officer prompts

questions and dialogue.


Gregory said that in court, offenders are only asked two questions, their

name and address and whether they are guilty or not. No-one talks to them

or listens to them. Referring to the new system he commented: "This is real

justice. This is the justice where the victim has the right to say 'Why me?

Why did you do this?' Often there are very powerful emotions and you do get

people breaking down."


Gregory said that offenders and their parents appreciated the opportunity

to deal with their offence and repair the damage they had caused.


Charles Pollard, head of the Thames Valley Police Force, said he believed

the new approach had "a big capacity to reduce crime."


The police report provided a number of case studies including the



1. A woman had paint thrown over her car by an adolescent she had

known for some years. After being initially quiet during the meeting she

suddenly shouted at him "You are nothing but a little ****." At the end of

the meeting she turned to the youth and said "Come on, I'll give you a lift



2. A pensioner befriended a youth who then stole all her money. After

the meeting, in which she met the young man's parents, she said she no

longer felt a victim. The parents sent her flowers and repaid all her

stolen money. The offender himself was devastated by the consequences of

what he had done.


3. Two men broke into the house of a man whose wife had recently died

and stole her jewellery. When they were caught, the widower was invited to

confront them but was too upset to attend the meeting. When told why he had

not taken part, the two men were ashamed of what they had done and offered

to look after the widower's garden for a year.


UK Home Secretary Jack Straw, commenting on the success of the pilot

version of the scheme, said it was not a "soft option" for the offender.

Describing the existing UK youth justice system as "dreadful", Straw said

he was urging a major extension of the experiment to other UK towns and

police forces.


[Composite report from press releases, UK newspaper reports and BBC news]


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