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Some criminal suspects will be offered a chance to compensate their victims and undergo rehabilitation rather than face prosecution, under a pilot project that will begin in six months.

The Justice Ministry Monday unveiled an outline of the two-year trial program, which will be implemented in the central region with around 600 cases. The project will be open to suspects in certain crimes carrying a sentence of between three months and three years. They will have the option of entering a program that includes participating in group therapy and educational programs, doing some form of community service and compensating the victims of their crimes. Suspects who agree to the conditions of the programs would not be prosecuted, and their criminal files would be closed.

The program, which was jointly developed by the justice, social affairs and public security ministry together with the Israel Police, is based on models operating in the United States.

Proponents say the program enables suspects to avoid the stigma of prosecution. It is based on the assumption that the community service performed by the suspect and the compensation of the victim is in the long run better for society than pursuing legal action. It would also free prosecutors to pursue more serious cases and reduce the pressure on the courts, the plan's architects say.

While investigating suspects whose alleged offenses are included in the program, police officers would identify eligible cases. These are cases that police prosecutors believe are likely to result in a suspended sentence rather than prison time, and a judge's order to undergo therapy rehabilitative treatments.

The offenses most likely to be eligible for the program are physical altercations between neighbors; minor fraud and drug offenses; and sexual offenses such as sexual harassment. Moving traffic violations, domestic violence and passing bad checks are among the types of offenses that will be specifically excluded from the pilot.

For a case to be referred, there must be sufficient evidence for an indictment. The suspect must accept responsibility for his or her actions, and cannot have previous convictions for a similar offense.

Victims' rights advocates were quick to attack the pilot. The director of the Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime, Dana Pugach, said it will wipe out 20 years of progress on victims' rights in Israel.

"It horrifies me," Pugach said yesterday. "Who will decide what sexual crime is considered 'light enough' to be referred to this alternative process? I wonder if anyone considered what happens to the victims of these crimes ... Again the victims are getting thrown to the dogs," Pugach said.

Justice Ministry Director-General Guy Rothkopf, one of those promoting the pilot, gave the example of someone who is arrested for possession of commercial quantities of an illegal drug.

"The police will investigate, the suspect will be detained, he'll need the services of the Public Defender's Office or his own lawyer, there will be an indictment, there'll be a trial and then the summary arguments," Rothkopf explained.

"In most cases, if the person is not a career criminal there won't be a conviction, but the case will be transferred to the Probation Service," which will offer the same types of remedies - community service, group therapy and compensation to the victim, Rothkopf said.

"In court, this process would take three years," Rothkopf continued. "We can do it in two months."