Young men wanted to dispense justice

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The Independent Online

Football and rugby clubs could soon be recruiting grounds for the Government, as part of a drive to find young men who will be volunteers on court panels and decide punishments for first-time offenders.

Football and rugby clubs could soon be recruiting grounds for the Government, as part of a drive to find young men who will be volunteers on court panels and decide punishments for first-time offenders.

A plan to be announced today hopes to recruit 5,000 people to sit on youth offenders panels, which start work in April. Officials are also considering recruiting ex-offenders and the unemployed.

The panels, which will sit weekly in schools and community centres, are part of the Government's plan to introduce greater community justice.

Home Office officials are worried by the fact that volunteers for pilot programmes are mostly white women aged over 40. The Youth Justice Board wants the panels to reflect their communities and include people who can relate to the experiences of offenders and victims.

Lord Warner, board chairman, admitted that young working-class men felt excluded by the criminal justice system. "A lot of people have said 'We didn't think you were interested in people like us'," he said. "If you want young men, you have to target the football clubs, the rugby clubs. This is where they socialise."

The youth offending panels will be responsible for implementing referral orders that will be handed out by the courts to anyone under 17 convicted of a first offence that does not require a custodial punishment.

Each panel consists of two members of the public and one criminal justice professional and will decide on an appropriate punishment for the young offender that makes reparation to the victim.

Punishments may include apologies to victims.