Imagine the tension when a juvenile house-breaker comes face to face with a 12 year old boy to explain why he broke into his parents' house, smashed his piggy bank and stole the $500 of savings.
It's a confronting scene for all concerned – and there's nowhere to hide for the burglar -- but this is not fiction.
This scenario happened recently in Canberra as part of the restorative justice program which brings offenders and victims together, with excellent results.
But no one is pretending it's all harmony – there has been high emotion in the room in the anonymous building in Civic where these unique conferences are held.
It's generally the case, however, that the adult victims of housebreaking and other minor offences dig deep and find generosity for the young offenders.
A key reason for that response is they come to realise the offenders are usually affected by several factors that produce dysfunctional lives, such as abuse at home and falling into the wrong company.
The restorative justice program has been running, mostly under the media radar, for 10 years now.
The positive impact on victims of crime is considerable, allowing them to recover more quickly and provides greater confidence in the justice process.
And the success of the program means it may be expanded to more than young offenders.
For the 10-year anniversary, the Canberra Times was given unprecedented access to an offender and a victim.
The juvenile cannot be identified, by law, but it appears he was led astray by a den of thieves.
He looked exhausted when he posed for a photo with his victim, Dr Suzanne Davey.
It was bizarre – but very welcome -- to see the offender and victim sitting quietly. The contrast between this scene in a Civic courtyard and the break-in in the burbs could not be more different.
In a violent rampage, he and his then mates broke into her house in 2012, stole sporting and medical gear and her car – and trashed it so badly it had to be written off.
Given the option of going before juvie court or facing his victim, he chose the latter – with great results.
Recently he reached a milestone in his rehabilitation, attending his first day at college.
"That first meeting was nerve wracking but I knew it was the best thing to do," he says. "It was easier than hiding from her and it was easier than going to court and saying I didn't do it."
Is he managing to turn his life around?
"Yeah, I have, I've gone back to school and I'm doing everything I need to be doing now," he says.
"I started college and it's going good, I didn't even think I was going to make it to college.
"I've changed the majority of my friends, they weren't the kind of people I want to hang around with any more."
Davey had met the juvenile only once before, at the restorative justice meeting two years ago, and was very happy to hear from The Canberra Times about his changed life.
"I am thrilled to hear that, I mean that makes it all worthwhile," she said before the reunion.
She and her husband were overseas when the break-in occurred.
She could not understand why her car was trashed, and wanted to know whether the attack was targeted or random.
"My husband's gold watch that his parents had given him for his 21st birthday was stolen, along with my spare car keys," she says.
"My car was stolen and then it was totally trashed, every panel of a less than 12 months old car was smashed, the steering wheel was pulled off, the car was written off.
"If someone didn't have a car, I can understand them stealing my car but to trash it, that's what I found difficult."
Davey was pleased with the work of the ACT detective assigned to their case. He kept them informed of the chase for the perpetrators of their break-in, as well as a string of burglaries in her suburb.
"After three months, they found my husband's gold watch in someone's house," she says.
"He told us the gang leader was sort of a hardened criminal but there was a young boy [in the gang] who was along for the ride and the detective felt he could be encouraged not to re-offend.
"He told us the boy wished to apologise to us so I certainly felt that if he wished to apologise, we should give him that opportunity."
At that first meeting two years ago, the nervous juvenile was accompanied by his grandfather.
"The grandfather was in tears, the boy was very contrite," Davey recalls.
"I think it was an extremely brave thing for him for do, he must've been terrified to meet us.
"I wanted to know whether we were targeted in any way and he said no, he was able to reassure me it was just a random crime.
"I explained I would understand him stealing my car if he needed a car but not trashing it but he wasn't able to provide an answer to that one."
Davey says she wasn't angry going into the restorative justice conference, and says the process would not have been as beneficial if she had been.
"I think if we had gone in feeling angry, it would have been totally counter-productive, we went in there in a conciliatory mood because we were told that this was a boy who wanted to say sorry," she says.
"If there was anything I could do to help him to not keep pursuing that sort of lifestyle, I'd like to be involved in a positive way.
"I don't think I could have met with someone if there was any violence involved. I don't know how comfortable I would feel meeting a perpetrator if I'd been actually physically attacked."
This is a feeling that many would echo yet recent research on face to face restorative justice conferencing globally, led by Dr Heather Strang from Cambridge, has highlighted the effectiveness of restorative justice processes for serious and violent crime, revealing reductions in trauma symptoms, anger and feelings of revenge in victims, and reductions in recidivism for offenders.
Davis recalls the detective working on her case said there was absolutely no point meeting with the other boys.
"They were already hardened criminals but this was a boy who was going along for the ride, he was vulnerable and he was one person that we could help," she says.
"His grandfather was crying while he was speaking to us and saying how awful he felt, so I think that made an impact on the boy too."
The juvenile was accompanied by his grandfather again for our interview and photo. It was a tragedy this young person was involved with the law but encouraging he has used the second chance he was offered.
The restorative justice program was developed by the Australian National University and introduced into ACT Policing amidst much scepticism, not the least from police.
Known then as diversionary conferencing, it was built on the simple concept of re-integrative shaming, where an offender faces a victim in a controlled environment.
ACT Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers says this is a powerful experience for victim and offender alike, where the success of restorative justice is measured by whether the offender actively participated, took responsibility for actions and understood the harm done to the victim.
"It was considered by some police and some in the community to be a soft option, not traditional policing, and nothing that would last beyond a year or two when the trend wore off -- how wrong they were," he says.
"The courts were not the answer to everything and there was a desperate need for a different kind of justice, one that better expressed the pain that victims went through."
The Chief Police Office says he can still remember the first conference he facilitated.
"[I recall] just how powerful and refreshing it was to have an offender face to face with his victim, knowing he could leave at any time but actually wanting to be there," he says.
"The alternative of course was for him to face court, so why would he choose this 'softer option'?
"You had to actually be there to appreciate that this was no soft option for the offender. He was put through the wringer like no court could do.
"There were no sensitivities attached to protection of the offender's feelings, there were no calls of 'hearsay' or 'objection' to facts, there was just a blunt confrontation of the truth from the most probing questions from the victim and the victim's family. Nothing was out of bounds.
"The victim wanted the offender to not only admit guilt and explain his wrongdoing, but to share the grief and genuinely be sorry for his actions."
Since 2005 when the Restorative Justice Unit became operational, to the end of June 2014, ACT Policing made 661 referrals involving 938 victims and 953 young offenders.
It might appear the program was set up as a diversionary exercise, to keep some young offenders out of court, especially if there was a chance to rebuild their lives.
However, the government says a key objective of the legislation is to enhance the rights of victims of offences by providing restorative justice as a way of empowering them to make decisions about how to repair the harm done by offences.
A review of phase one – involving young people who have committed less serious crimes – found "restorative justice is proving to be a valuable addition to the criminal justice system".
"Victims are reporting high levels of satisfaction with restorative justice and are experiencing a decrease in levels of anger, fear and anxiety following their participation in a restorative justice conference … however, they seek justice," it says.
"Victims are demonstrating that they want those responsible for causing them harm to accept responsibility for what they did and not try to minimise or excuse their actions, express some genuine remorse for what they did and agree to do something that will help them to change their destructive behaviour."
The Restorative Justice Unit manager Amanda Lutz also says the program's main aim is to give a voice to victims.
"We are a victim-centric scheme so our main purpose is really setting up justice options for victims to have a voice and have a say," she says.
"It also works really well for offenders.
"For the offenders who get involved, it can be a really deep experience of accountability. They have to face the victim, that leads them to accept going into and completing a rehabilitation program or doing something that will change their behaviour."
She said the drop in referrals to the program over each quarter for the past five years was a positive trend.
John Hinchey, ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner, says the territory should be proud of its restorative justice scheme, "perhaps the boldest and broadest scheme in the country, if not the world".
"It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than an offence against the Crown," he says.
"After their participation in restorative justice, victims report feeling less anxious, less fearful, less angry. Offenders express renewed hope for themselves and say their loved ones have renewed trust in them."
Justice Richard Refshauge, of the ACT Supreme Court, says the importance of providing victims of crime with the opportunity to speak directly to the offender should not be underestimated.
"It is a major shift from the traditional approach when victims were and, in many cases, still are, bystanders at best," he says.
"It is to be hoped that there will be a substantial extension of the process in the near future."
ACT Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker says one perceived weakness of the present criminal justice system is the victim has very little involvement in the process and the outcome.
"The [restorative justice] process sees offender and victim brought face to face and allows for human empathy to play its part in ameliorating the hurt of the victim and in both promoting, and providing a vehicle for expression of, the offender's remorse," she says.
"A successful process can be cathartic, even life changing, for the participants."
A similarly positive finding was given last year by an international study in which Cambridge University researchers found that criminals were less likely to reoffend after meeting their victims face to face.
With everyone talking up the program, ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell is considering expanding it to adult offenders and more serious crimes.
"This will be an important step towards providing an alternative means to resolution of crime for victims in the ACT who seek this opportunity, especially those who have been primary or secondary victims of violence and are suffering the after effects of trauma, physical and psychological pain," he says.
The unit also employs an Indigenous guidance partner, Lisa Ross, to provide information and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims, young people and their families, to encourage their participation in restorative justice.
For Indigenous young offenders, a diversion from the formal criminal justice system that involves accountability and care for their wellbeing helps to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the criminal justice system.