A new deferred prosecution scheme to help rehabilitate people committing low level crimes instead of charging them is set to be piloted in Hartlepool.
The Safer Hartlepool Partnership was told how the scheme will be set up by a newly formed ‘Cleveland Divert’ team and target first-time offenders.
In the deferred prosecution scheme, instead of charging a suspect immediately, the suspect is given an opportunity to voluntarily enter into an agreement with specific conditions.
If conditions are met it will mean the prosecution will not be proceeded with and aims to rehabilitate suspected offenders and reduce re-offending.
Mandatory conditions will include not to re-offend and to participate in victim awareness work, which may involve the offender meeting victims of their crimes.
Simon Smart, project manager for the new adult deferred prosecution scheme in Cleveland, said it comes as the area has some of the highest reoffending rates for adults in the country, with Hartlepool figures currently some of the highest of the group.
He said: “We’re talking about first-time offenders and low level offences.
“A deferred prosecution approach can rehabilitate suspected offenders and reduce re-offending.
“We are going to create an environment of early assessment and intervention and we have good links with community hubs in Hartlepool.
“As part of the assessment process to see if offenders qualify for the scheme we will be looking for remorse and a willingness to make amends.
“Working with victims and looking at the needs of victims is absolutely at the centre of this.”
A pilot scheme is to be launched in January focusing on shoplifting and criminal damage, with the full scheme expected to go live in April.
Should those involved fail to comply with the agreement, the police will have the right to invoke a criminal prosecution.
Offences which will be looked at under the scheme include shoplifting, theft, possession of drugs, minor violence offences, public order offences, criminal damage and being drunk and disorderly.
Community Policing Superintendent Alison Jackson backed the plans and said it should help police focus resources.
She said: “I’m absolutely supportive of this, we’re looking at new ways to be more efficient.
“If you look at the amount of shoplifting, 25% of crime in Cleveland is shoplifting.
“We spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with it.
“Deferred prosecution allows us to focus time to those incidents that really matter to the community.”
Crime bosses said national research has shown that adult offenders who receive an out of court disposal are less likely to reoffend.
Councillors on the Safer Hartlepool Partnership committee also backed the introduction of the scheme.
Coun John Tennant said: “I do understand it’s about winning over the public and seeing how it works.
“But I look forward it, it should be a positive to see it working in the area.”
Coun Jim Lindridge said: “I support this divert prosecution scheme.
“It links back to an approach we took in schools in the past to help rehabilitate offenders.
“We need to engage both parties together.”
Funding for the scheme will come from the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger.
Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporting Service