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Mirror, mirror

FACING up to the consequences of one's actions has long been a part of penal policy. It is behind parental withdrawal of privilege - for example, "being grounded", as young people call it. It has been piloted across large parts of Scotland by way of countering juvenile offending, and its wider introduction is now being considered.

Casual vandalism, so distressing to its victims, is mindless in that the perpetrators usually do not consider the consequences. When park benches are thrown into the pond, forcing youngsters to confront the "victims" (elderly visitors to the park, mothers with toddlers, staff who have to clear up the mess) may make them confront an uncomfortable truth.

So far so admirable. But there have to be limits to a system in which the victim calls the tune for reparation. The justice system, which in Scotland carefully considers care of the offender as well as culpability, cannot associate itself with the discredited notion of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Pranksters who go too far may be helped by meeting their victims. But hardened offenders are likely to be dismissive of do-goodery and may even become revengeful.

Does the fearful old lady whose house has been turned over really want a chat with a lout?

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