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