....Home Affairs Minister Adrian Earnshaw MHK said: 'It's important the department works with both the courts and legislators to improve the effectiveness of the judicial process and it is our responsibility to look at other options across the whole spectrum of probation and prison.'

He said: 'Officers in the department have been keeping a watching brief on Restorative Justice for some time. In essence, it involves the community having a say in how offenders are dealt with and can involve face to face meetings between offenders and their victims.

'Restorative Justice is certainly not appropriate for all offenders,' he added, 'and I am aware some may feel alternatives to custody are soft options but in other jurisdictions it has proved effective in giving some satisfaction to the victim as well as having an impact on offenders.

'It is just one of the areas the department is exploring but we will have to look at the cost implications as we do with all new policy initiatives.'

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