Young offenders should be allowed to help their victims rather than be sent to jail, a youth group said yesterday. 'Restorative justice' would cut the chances of criminals being institutionalised, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups said. Executive director Rosanna Wong Yick-ming said judges in Hong Kong had few options other than sentencing young offenders. For more than 30 years, many places overseas had been encouraging offenders to compensate their victims or help them recover, and had urged victims to forgive. 'We should follow the trend of deinstitutionalising offenders of non-violent crimes by providing more community-based sentencing options, although those guilty of more serious crimes would still require a jail sentence,' Ms Wong said. The group said weekend jail stays and electronic tags which are used to supervise offenders at home could help cut demand for prison places. A mediation programme could include conferences attended by offenders, victims and the victims' families, provided all parties were willing. But a leading lawyer said that if the programme was only available to those who pleaded guilty, it could lead to suspects prematurely admitting guilt. 'You must balance the benefits of mediation against the right of the accused. If it turns out there is pressure for him to admit a crime, it is not fair,' said barrister and ousted legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee. She said the heavy caseload in youth courts meant magistrates were unable to spend a lot of time dealing with cases. Ousted legislator and lawyer James To Kun-sun said the programme was only suitable for youngsters with caring parents. 'Parents of working-class families will not have time to attend conferences and counselling. The programme may turn out to be one only suitable for wealthy families.' The Social Welfare Department said about 10 more officers would be recruited to work on community service orders at magistrates and higher courts, beginning in May.