Young drug dealers are being offered driving lessons, fitness classes and job opportunities instead of prosecution in a bid to give them a “second chance”.
Police in Bristol are the first in Britain to trial the “Call-In Scheme”, which gives first-time offenders aged 16 to 21 the chance to avoid the courts and “break the cycle” of reoffending.
The youngsters are selected by a panel and cannot have previous convictions for violent or sexual offences. Up to 16 people can take part in the scheme at a time, but anyone caught offending will be removed and prosecuted for the initial offence as well as a new one if convicted.
Detective Superintendent Gary Haskins, of Avon and Somerset Police, told the BBC that the force wanted to “take a chance” as most of those involved have only dabbled in dealing. He admitted there was a chance they could reoffend in the mandatory six to nine-month period, but that it was a risk the force was willing to take.
He told the BBC: “Why not give them a chance? What is there to lose? We send them to prison and we’ll see them again.”
The first candidates began the programme in February. Since then, one person has been removed and charged with dealing class A drugs, and another has been taken off the scheme after being found in possession of a weapon, according to the BBC.
The scheme, which is partially funded by Bristol City Council, also offers non-contact boxing to help with fitness and anger management. Participants can also benefit from help getting the paperwork and qualifications needed to work in the construction industry, driving lessons and English lessons if necessary.
The Call-In Scheme is the first of its kind in the country. It is targeted at young people arrested for drug supply offences who are at risk of becoming involved in serious criminality, particularly drug, violent and gang-related crime.
A review, involving an independent academic evaluation, will be carried out to judge the success of the scheme and its impact on gang-related and drug-supply criminal activity.