Robbers, sex offenders and violent criminals are among those avoiding prison in Northamptonshire by being handed community-based punishments.
So-called Community Resolutions are an out-of-court disposal designed to tackle less serious offending and anti-social behaviour.
They are not convictions, do not appear on criminal records and will not be disclosed in a standard DBS check. Often the punishments involve a form of apology to the victim or restoration of any damage caused.
In 2015, use started to decline after the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee published a report suggesting about 30 per cent of out of court disposals previously recorded may have been inappropriately issued.
A report compiled by the BBC Shared Data Unit has found some 400,000 have been dealt with in this way since 2014 – prompting concerns from a number of high-level politicians.
In Northamptonshire last year community resolutions were handed out for just 3 per cent of all crimes.
A large proportion of them were given to people who had committed criminal damage or theft – accounting for 177 and 277 of the resolutions respectively.
But they were also given for a handful of serious offences.
A total of 46 were handed out for drug offences; seven given for possessing a weapon, one for robbery and two for sexual offences.
The majority of the community resolutions were, in fact, for violent offences – 452 in total.
Co-leader of the Green Party, Sian Berry, is among those concerned by the figures.
She said: “Community resolution orders should be used as they were intended - as an alternative, community-based way of dealing with minor crimes.
“All sentencing and crime resolution should be evidence based. It is therefore deeply concerning the police are not monitoring the success or failure of community resolution orders, particularly when used for more serious offences.
“I urge all police forces across the UK to start doing this as a matter of urgency.”
In order for a resolution order to be imposed, offenders must admit responsibility for the crime.
Victim consent should also be sought - but supervisors can grant permission to proceed without it
Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh says they should only be used in ‘certain circumstances’,
“I hope this mechanism isn't simply being used to boost clear-up rates in the middle of a criminal justice system that is in crisis,” she added.
Northamptonshire Police said: "Community Resolutions provide police officers with the opportunity to deal with appropriate offences and offenders without going down the route of formal criminal justice sanctions.
“This could involve a Restorative Justice meeting or conference, an offer of compensation, a simple apology, a victim awareness course, rehabilitation, or a promise to clear up any graffiti or criminal damage.
“The decision to give someone a criminal record is not one taken lightly, and the police understand that some victims want an outcome that does not involve a full judicial process.
“A community resolution is not the default position on sexual offences and their use in relation to these types of offences involves meeting very precise criteria where the value of using this approach outweighs that of formal prosecution.
“In all of the offences where a community resolution is offered, the victim’s wishes are at the forefront of a police officer’s decision making process.”