Figures released by Norfolk police have revealed children as young as four have been arrested for crimes ranging from criminal damage through to violence and burglary, but instead of facing court proceedings, have been dealt with using 'restorative justice' measures, a process which involves apologising to their victims and carrying out community work.
Peter Merry, head of criminal justice for Norfolk police said the system gave officials an opportunity to 'steer' children away from a life of crime.
'A punitive approach to crime is not always possible or desirable. In the past the only way of dealing with under-10s was through words of advice which was not always enough.
'This approach is structured and is a chance to do something constructive and also stops young people falling through the cracks.
'They can be brought together with their victim to see the impact of their crime and, in many cases, will be asked to do something further to make amends. This could be writing a letter of apology or carrying out some work in the community.
'Punitive aspects are replaced by citizenship, for example working in charity shop or doing something to help an older generation.'
He added that any such orders were only issued with the consent of the child's parent or guardian, and that the age of the offender was always given careful consideration:
'The younger they are, the more the activity will centre on them appreciating what they've done and learning from it," he said, 'It also gives us an opportunity to refer a case to children's service or the young offenders team, something which may not have happened consistently in the past. It means the young person gets the help and support they need to stay on the right track.'
The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti-social Behaviour has called for the introduction of restorative justice countrywide.
What do you think?
Do measures like restorative justice work, or should offenders be punished severely or even locked up, whatever their age?