Success is being claimed for what is called a restorative justice project in Essex which confronts young offenders with the victims of their crimes.

The scheme, set up by the Essex Family Group Conferencing Service in partnership with the Essex Youth Offending Service, Essex Police, Essex Victim Support and the Youth Justice Board, has been running "restorative justice conferences" since 2000, and says that many victims of crime have gained help and support.

The conferences offer the chance for victims of youth crime to meet offenders and their families and discuss how they have been affected by the offence, receive answers to questions and apologies.

There is also discussion on how the offender might make amends and how they can be helped to stay out of trouble.

During 2001 the service received 59 new referrals of which 42 cases have been closed; 27 victims met their offenders at conferences, while 13 were represented by Essex Victim Support.

Essex Police deputy chief constable Charles Clarke, who is seconded to the Youth Justice Board as managing director of prevention, said an evaluation review had been "extremely positive."

It showed that 70 per cent of young criminals involved in the first year of the project had not re-offended - considerably higher than Home Office statistics for under 21s who served some community service in 1997, 31 per cent of whom did not re-offend.

Cllr Mrs Iris Pummell, Essex County Council cabinet member for children's services and schools, said: "These conferences provide excellent support to victims of crime and we are extremely pleased with the number of victims attending. It helps to dispel the myth that victims will not participate and are not interested in projects such as this."

Published Thursday, March 21, 2002