A CAMPAIGN calling for criminals to be handed community sentences instead of prison has spread its message in Oxfordshire.

The Howard League for Penal Reform believes restorative justice, which includes burglars and violent criminals meeting their victims face-to-face, helps create a safer society.

On Wednesday, the organisation hosted a seminar in Thame with the Thames Valley Police Probation Trust to show how the system is working in the county.

The Howard League believes criminals can be reformed more effectively using the programme than if they are sent to jail.

The course is offered to criminals “on the cusp” of custody for violent offences, household burglary, or where direct personal harm is caused, including causing death by careless driving.

Director Frances Crook said: “Community sentences and restorative justice seek to challenge and change people for the better.

“By contrast, our overcrowded prisons fail to offer lasting solutions to crime.

“Spending all day lounging on a cell bunk, particularly for those on short sentences, is the real ‘soft’ option.”

“Well resourced and well structured community programmes can challenge and change people for the better, in a way short prison sentences simply can’t.

“Their success helps to show that robust community alternatives can continue to achieve many more positive outcomes than prison.”

Last year the Thames Valley Restorative Justice Service won a Howard League award for turning around the lives of offenders.

Under the scheme, victims have the chance to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and to receive an apology.

Probation officers said a four year study in the Thames Valley showed 78 per cent of victims who took part found restorative justice valuable.

Campaigners believe it also gives criminals a chance to “understand the impact of their actions and do something to repair the harm they have caused.”

Campaign manager Catryn Yousefi said: “The Community Sentences Cut Crime campaign fits closely with the Government’s desire to increase the visibility of community sentences and its strategy for reducing offending which has community sentences at its heart. For the majority of non-dangerous offenders, community sentences are more likely to reduce the seriousness and frequency of re-offending.

“They help to make a person take responsibility for their offending and put something back into the community.

“Programmes such as Thames Valley Restorative Justice Service are helping to bring down the rate of re-offending and repair the damage caused by crime.

“Local people will be safer as a result.”

Sir Charles Pollard, who was Thames Valley Chief Constable from 1991 to 2001, developed and championed restorative justice.