....The Criminal Justice Alliance, which represents around 60 organisations, said society had become over-reliant on prison, which should be reserved for those who have committed serious offences.

Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, the group's director, said: 'Over the last week people will have been shocked by the way the rioters trashed and looted their own neighbourhoods, with seeming disregard for the very places that they live.

'Whatever sentences are meted out, both the offenders and the victims will continue to live together in these neighbourhoods, and so we must start to repair this harm.'

She called for victims and members of the public to be given a say in how offenders could make amends in their communities.

'It brings everyone involved in a crime together to talk about the impact, and what needs to happen to repair the harm caused. 

'Restorative justice is very popular amongst victims and can help those hurt by crime feel a sense of closure.

'Importantly, it reduces the likelihood of reoffending, and can make substantial reductions in repeat offending for violent and property crime.'

Ms Helyar-Cardwell added: 'Imprisoning young people could turn some opportunistic looters into hardened criminals.

'Half of all prisoners go on to reoffend within a year of release, and for young offenders the rate is even higher.

'We need to reserve prison for serious offences, making sure effective alternatives such as restorative justice are in place that can command the confidence of victims and communities.

'The rioters should be confronted with the real human impact of their behaviour. Restorative justice is a means of doing this.'