A pioneering scheme to divert low level offenders away from a life of crime is being launched in North Wales.
The idea has been championed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who says it will cut reoffending rates as well as reducing police and court time.
It’s anticipated part of the Checkpoint programme will be piloted in a selected area of North Wales in the New Year with the aim of rolling it out across the region over the next 12 months.
The scheme, which has been developed by Cambridge University, has been successfully trialled in Durham.
Offenders are offered the chance to avoid prosecution by seeking help from rehabilitation services in the community after signing a contract to say they will comply.
Each offender will be supervised by a skilled ‘navigator’ – many of whom have successfully completed rehabilitation programmes – the four-month period and they face prosecution if the contract is broken
Durham’s Checkpoint programme has already won a national award from the Howard League for Penal Reform and has achieved impressive results in reducing re-offending.
Statistics from Durham showed only four per cent of those referred for support were re-convicted compared with 19 per cent who went down criminal justice routes.
It is argued that the Checkpoint approach improves life chances because people avoid getting a criminal record, which can affect employment and education opportunities.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, says it may even save lives because criminalisation deters people from seeking help and encourages high risk behaviours.
With the estimated cost of imprisoning someone now at £65,000 and £40,000 for every year after that, Mr Jones also argues that public savings could be substantial.
Following a recent fact-finding visit to Durham, Mr Jones Jones said: “Checkpoint is aimed at people who have committed a lower level of offences and rather than taking them to court we can intervene and use skilled navigators to direct them to the appropriate services.
“This will address the underlying causes of their offending and aim to reduce the risk of them re-offending.
“People are often motivated to commit crime due to underlying issues in their lives – these could include drug or alcohol misuse, mental and physical health issues, housing or homelessness, or problems to do with money or relationships.
“Checkpoint offers eligible offenders a four-month long contract to engage as an alternative to prosecution.
“The contract offers interventions to address the underlying reasons why they committed the crime to prevent them from doing it again to somebody else.
“Serious offences such as rape, robbery or murder will not be eligible for Checkpoint. Neither will driving offences, cases of serious domestic abuse or serious hate crime.
“Checkpoint is not a soft option – and it will be harder to complete than all of the current out of court disposals currently available, for example, a caution, or a fixed penalty notice.
“If the subject successfully completes the contract and does not re-offend, no further action will be taken against them.
“If they re-offend or fail to complete the contract they will be prosecuted and we will inform the courts of the circumstances of their failure to complete the contract.”
In Durham they have 12 navigators who currently deal with 300 offenders who have given an undertaken to seek help from services for four months and in return they will avoid prosecution but if they breach that condition then they will go to court.
Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner Ron Hogg, who invited Arfon Jones to come and see how the programme is working, said “Checkpoint demonstrates that traditional criminal justice sanctions are less effective in reducing re-offending than diversion schemes.
“Traditional criminal justice sanctions such as a caution or a fine do nothing to address the reasons why people offend and reduce re-offending.
“It’s also important to adopt this kind of strategy as we face financial cutbacks and have to look at different ways of operating – this will help us to cope.
“There’s scope for savings with regard to police, court, probation and prison time – any cost will be outweighed by the savings.
“Serious offenders who commit serious crimes will not be offered this and will still go to prison.
“Checkpoint is a massive step forward for policing and for this force in general.”