Crime victims get more of a say in punishing offenders
Punishing offenders in Lincolnshire is being left increasingly in the hands of victims.
Restorative justice allows victims of low level crime to decide whether to prosecute.
It means offenders could get away without receiving a criminal record.
Its use in the county has risen by 25% between April and August, compared to the same period last year.
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It was used 760 times this year, compared to 600 times last year in figures from Lincolnshire Police.
However it is being used in some instances of serious crime – it was used 355 times this year to deal with shoplifters and thieves.
Three minor sex offences were also dealt with while it was used another five times to punish drug offenders.
Police argue it is cutting the numbers going through courts, and gives offenders a second chance.
But Inspector Gareth Boxall, East Lindsey restorative justice lead, says it is not simply a cost-cutting idea.
"There are elements that reduce costs to public purse as money isn't there anymore but it is about doing the right thing for the victim and also for the offender too."
It comes as crime drops by 15% in Lincolnshire.
Reported crime fell from 44,164 incidents in 2011 to 37,574 during 2012.
But Insp Boxall refuted claims that restorative justice could skew crime figures.
He said: "If we talk about crime falling, there is no direct relation with introduction of restorative justice but we would hope in time it would reduce crime.
"There has been some suggestion that if we use restorative justice we don't have a crime on our books – but that is not the case. If it has occurred we have to record it.
"There is an element of bringing officers' discretion back; we have seen it taken away from them in recent years.
"We have had police cautions for years and quite rightly come under criticism for their misuse."
Police use a traffic light grid to prevent misuse of the system.
It shouldn't be used for sex offences, robberies or house burglaries, which are coded red.
Offences like assault and ABH are coded orange for careful consideration.
Green means it can be used, often for criminal damage, minor assaults and public disorder offences.
However it was used 186 times after violence against a person, up from 165 times during the same April to August period last year.
The charity Victim Support believes it should be used carefully.
"It is important that a full risk assessment must be undertaken in complex cases, especially those of domestic violence," a spokesperson said.
Restorative justice has also been used increasingly to punish shoplifters and thieves.
It was used over 350 times over the last four months, compared to 245 times last year.
But Jim Dixon, branch chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Lincoln, North Hykeham and Sleaford, said it could be more effective than a prison sentence.
"Going to prison is all well and good, but that is it.
"Being seen out having to mend something they have broken in full view is more embarrassing than going to prison."