Known as Restorative Justice, the system, used as an alternative to the courts when victims agree, is designed to make youngsters aware of the consequences of crime and anti-social behaviour, and give them a chance to express remorse.

It has been used successfully in Hertfordshire for many years, but the study by the university's Brian Littlechild and Helen Sender focused on its use in the county's four homes for children in care, where Restorative Justice was introduced in 2002.

They found it had led to a 23 per cent drop in crime, but was less successful in countering anti-social behaviour, where the academics recommended some changes.

Professor Littlechild said: "The innovative work in Hertfordshire highlights the potential for using methods of Restorative Justice as a means to deal with conflict resolution, as well as other types of anti-social situations that might end up as criminal if not handled effectively.”

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