Labour's cherished "two strikes and you're out" policy is to be widened by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to include more young offenders.
Mr Blunkett is to present proposals on Thursday for all teenage criminals to be put on a final warning after their first offence. If they again break the law, they would be fast-tracked back into court and risk being sent to prison.
He wants the current array of different penalties for the under-21s replaced with a single, more easily understood, community sentence order.
Young first-time offenders would also have to pay reparations for the damage they have caused and do community work. They could be told to clean up their graffiti or to mend property they have damaged. They could be ordered to accept drug counselling and obey curfews. Mr Blunkett, who will unveil the plans in a speech to the National Probation Conference, said: "Giving first offenders a clear programme, including reparations for the victim, is to offer one chance of redemption before getting really tough. The time has come for honesty in sentencing. We must protect the public and punish the guilty. Reducing crime means there must be a fair deal for victims and we must break the cycle of reoffending among our young people."
Backing the moves, Sir David Ramsbotham, the outgoing chief inspector of prisons, said: "My view about young offenders is that they are the critical group of offenders in society. I would like to see much better use of community sentencing to keep them out, of course. And I would like to see it done positively in repairing what they have done to the community."
Mr Blunkett's predecessor, Jack Straw, championed the "two strikes" policy to punish young offenders who failed to comply with probation orders. He also endorsed moves by the previous Tory government for anybody convicted of a second serious violent crime or sex attack to receive an automatic life sentence.
The proposals will be based on a long-awaited government report into sentencing policy by John Halliday, a senior civil servant. The report will be published on Thursday.
The Home Secretary will set out plans for non-violent adult offenders to compensate their victims. His proposals will be subject to wide-ranging consultation and are likely to be included in the Queen's Speech programme in the autumn of 2002. He is also likely to back longer prison sentences for serious sex offenders. One possibility is for them to serve their full sentences, losing their right to automatic release with a third of their sentence left.