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'Pey back' time is a telling lesson for young offenders

Restorative justice, the newest kid on the block in the drive to improve young people's behaviour is said to be producing remarkable results in the north-east.

The "pey back" approach (Doric style), endorsed by the Executive last month, was developed by Barnardo's Scotland and modelled on established programmes in New Zealand. It was launched in late January and has so far had 60 referrals in Aberdeenshire.

"In 18 years of working with vulnerable children and adults, I have never seen anything like it," Eric Watson, a deputy children's service manager with Barnardo's Scotland, said.

In the case of Peter, aged 15, who had broken into a garden shed in Peterhead with some friends and stolen alcohol, one of the most powerful parts of the programme was writing to apologise.

"It was difficult writing the letter, because I felt stupid, but it felt good to be able to say I was sorry," Peter says. "Then they wrote back. I couldn't believe it. At first, I thought their letter was going to be bad, but they said they weren't angry with us - they just wished we'd asked them if we'd wanted anything, rather than stealing from them."

Mr Watson says such a positive response was not an isolated incident. "To me, it shows that the public are interested in giving them a second chance and that they support what we are doing for young offenders."

Peter now has some notion of consequences. "We were just mucking about," he says, "but it was a really stupid thing to do." He drew the line at meeting his victims, however. "They asked us to meet them, but I couldn't handle that - it would have been too much."

During the 10-session programme, the three boys involved completed a series of worksheets devised around the principles of victim awareness. They looked at the consequences of different types of crime and visited the local police station, where they were given an insight into the procedures and paperwork generated by youth crime, such as vandalism, theft and fire raising.

Other restorative approaches have involved young people cleaning police cars, football coaching of youngsters with behavioural difficulties and performing "non-hazardous tasks" in schools and in the community.

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