CHESHIRE Constabulary denies its restorative justice programme is a “soft” option even though offenders of lesser crimes will be let off without a criminal prosecution.

Under the scheme, victims of crimes, including minor assaults and theft, will have the option of meeting the person who has wronged them and agreeing what the consequences should be.

Controversially, offenders dealt with in this way will not be arrested or face a criminal prosecution through the courts.

A pilot study in Cheshire indicated offenders are less likely to re-offend if they are made to confront the harm they have caused in people’s lives while victims often feel they can put an incident behind them.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “Cheshire police are not adopting a ‘soft justice’ approach. The impact of restorative justice in Cheshire has been significant. Offenders are facing up to the consequences of their actions and making amends by paying for the crime or repairing the damage caused.

“Restorative justice has been primarily used to deal with theft, shoplifting, criminal damage, minor assaults and anti-social behaviour and is really making a difference in re-offending and victim satisfaction rates when it is used with young people or first time offenders.

“Here in Cheshire we are anticipating that 120 crimes this month will be dealt with in this way.”

Cheshire’s evaluation of the pilots showed 78% of victims felt it was a more appropriate way of dealing with the crime.

ACC Shewan said, “Being a victim of crime is a terrible experience and it is not surprising that, 54% of crime victims said they were traumatised by the experience and 55% told us they felt unsafe in their own communities.

“Of those victims who chose the restorative justice approach, which involved meeting the person who has caused them harm face-to-face, 73% told us that they could now put the incident behind them, felt safe in their own community and were no longer scared of the offender.

“We must work hard to ensure that we reduce the number of people becoming victims but meeting the offender puts the victim at the centre of the process and gives the victim some degree of closure and understanding.”

Since piloting the scheme last year almost 1,000 officers have been trained in restorative justice which increases the options available for solving crime and disorder issues especially in relation to first time offenders.

Restorative justice is not available to all offenders – those whose offence requires a criminal justice outcome will still go to court – but Mr Shewan says lesser crimes can be dealt with quickly and effectively when the traditional outcome would have been “nothing more than a telling off”.

“Dealing with crimes that are appropriate in this way allows officers to spend more time in their communities on patrol and more time investigating serious crimes,” he added.

“Restorative Justice is a more common sense and proportionate approach which has a better outcome for the victim and is more likely to have a positive impact upon the offender.”