The YISP works with young people and their families to try to stamp out behaviour that could lead to crime in the future as early as possible.

They work with children aged 10 to 14 who may have been identified by their school or the police as being at risk of entering the youth justice system.

It could begin with something as simple as leaving school at lunchtime when they are not supposed to or hanging around with their friends outside the post office in the evenings when older people might find it intimidating.

Mrs Thomas said: “We know they’re not doing anything wrong.

“But it’s working with everybody to get them to understand how some of this low level stuff, if you don’t acknowledge it, can lead to involvement in things that are more serious.”

When it comes to restorative justice, Norfolk has been leading the way.

The approach is now used in a variety of settings from low-level offenders being put in touch with victims of crime via the police to playground bullies being made to confront the people they have hurt.

All Norfolk’s schools are aiming to be using restorative approaches by 2015. Supt Stuart Gunn, head of community safety at Norfolk Police, said: “The aim in the long-run is to prevent re-offending by making them understand the impact of what they have done. If that person can have empathy for the victim, then it can be a success.”

The officer said restorative justice was not about helping people get away without punishment.

The approach is only ever used for low-level offences, with people who have not been involved with crime before, and when the victim agrees.

But it has been found to help significantly reduce re-offending rates by making people think about their actions and the impact they have on others.

He said: “It’s not the soft touch people think it is. They have to face up to their victim – often that’s the worst part.”

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