Pathfinder is a Deferred Caution and Deferred Charge scheme run by Devon and Cornwall Police. The diversion scheme aims to reduce harm and re-offending through the use of interventions with a strong community focus.


Pathfinder started in June 2017 as a Deferred Caution scheme. In November 2018, Pathfinder won the Howard League Policing and Adults Community Award in recognition of their work with low level offenders. At the end of 2019, they reduced their Out of Court Disposal (OOCD) framework to Community Resolutions and Deferred Cautions and then launched their Deferred Charge Scheme. Adult Simple Cautions were retained for use for those who did not meet the Pathfinder Eligibility Criteria but were suitable for OOCD.

Shortly after launching their Deferred Charge scheme, Pathfinder expanded their provision from 18-30 to an all age offer. They have recently received funding through Devon and Cornwall’s Serious Violence Prevention Programme to develop an Enhanced Deferred Prosecution offer specifically for 18-25s and Care Leavers. This is set to launch in March 2023.

Pathfinder's ethos

Pathfinder has a community focus and was established as the response to the strong evidence for reduced reoffending, as a result of Checkpoint (Durham Constabulary).

The team

Pathfinder’s current structure is 1 manager, 2 supervisors, 14 keyworkers and 3 support officers. Pathfinder also utilises volunteers to support participants to seek and engage with voluntary activity in their communities.

The key workers are recruited from a range of backgrounds to ensure a mixed skill set. These include Police, Probation, Education, Drug and Alcohol and Domestic Abuse Services. The role of the key worker is to challenge harmful behaviours but to do so through building a supportive, collaborative professional relationship with those that participate in the scheme. Pathfinder believes in positive role modelling and the power of engaging participants in voluntary activities. 

The team undertakes holistic needs and strength-based assessments at the beginning and end of the four months to monitor outcomes. They advocate for and broker multi-agency responses and work closely with over 60 local voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations. Pathfinder do not commission pathways: the keyworkers hold an important coordination role and can draw on their many contacts with local organisations. 

Good practice

Further, Pathfinder puts considerable emphasis on the development of good practice in the brief interventions they deliver. The service has an embedded female offer, after the recommendations set out in the 2006 Corston Report. This is to safeguard those individuals, most often women, who are found to be in high-risk domestic abuse situations. They also have an incorporated trauma-informed practice, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) awareness and proven offender-based approaches to ensure the quality of their interventions and good practice is central to their service delivery.

What is Pathfinder?

There are two routes into Pathfinder, depending on the seriousness of the offence. Both include a contract that lasts for four months (16 weeks) but the intensity differs depending on the disposal and the level of risk and harm.  

Deferred Caution: This is a Deferred Out of Court Disposal. 

Compliance is monitored through a contract that is set as part of the caution. Their support officers contact individuals who have committed an offence to set meaningful rehabilitative conditions. They escalate the case to key workers if risk of harm is considered to be high or if the individual presents with vulnerabilities that may inhibit them from effectively engaging with their conditions. There are mandatory conditions and some rehabilitative conditions can also be set, as follows:

  • Repairing harm through reparation. An example of this could be paying for any damage caused as reparation to the victim.
  • Engaging with interventions to address underlying issues linked to their offending. This could include engaging with a local partner agency or completion of an online course to address criminogenic needs.
  • If the victim requests, the individual must have an initial conversation with Restorative Justice (RJ) services to explore if they want to engage in RJ.

Deferred Charge: This is an intervention as an alternative to court.

First, a key worker will contact the individual who has offended and ensure a full needs assessment is completed. Women will be offered the option of a female worker. Then, a contract will be agreed that will be bespoke to the individual and will include conditions designed to support changes in behaviour and reduce their risk of reoffending. Subsequent meetings and interventions might be out in the community, for example, in community centres.


They have had over 3,000 referrals to the scheme and between 90-95% of Deferred Charge clients and 82% of Deferred Caution clients successfully comply with their conditions.

Results from exit surveys show an improvement in all areas of need across the cohort: 97% of Deferred Charge survey respondents stated that Pathfinder helped reduce their risk of reoffending and 91% state it helped with issues they’ve faced.

Randomised Control Trial

Between April and November 2018, they undertook a Randomised Control Trial as part of an evaluation with the University of Cambridge. The report is currently under peer review. However the results suggest there are reductions in reoffending to be had, even from a low base-rate: the repeat offending rate among the treatment group was just 3%, the mean number of crimes for which they were sanctioned was less than one per year, and the level of harm was less than the equivalent of 20 days in prison. 

Restorative Justice

Pathfinder are responsible for 50% of all RJ referrals to Make Amends, the commissioned service provider for RJ in Devon and Cornwall. Pathfinder participants have given over 4,000 hours of voluntary service back into the community, from beach cleans, helping at soup kitchens, painting rugby clubs, helping disabled children to surf, making hats for the homeless and many more

Impact on frontline officers

By reducing the administrative burden on frontline police officers, the Pathfinder scheme has considerably freed-up their time. As the Pathfinder Team are Police Staff, they are able to remove crimes from officer’s workloads at the point the investigation is complete. They set, deliver and monitor the conditions as well as finalise the crime once the individual has complied. Additional time is saved as the officer is not required to prepare a full gap file at the point of referral, only in the unlikely event the individual fails to comply and a postal requisition is required. 


Feedback from those who have been through the scheme has also been positive, an example of which is included below:

I would like to thank you for all your help during my time with pathfinder. When I was originally arrested, I couldn't have dreamt of what a positive effect it would have on my life. I really was at a low point in my life, smoking heroin on a regular basis and my relationship with my family was strained to say the least. With your help and guidance, I am now on a script and haven't touched heroin in months and my relationship with my family is a lot better, I'm even doing my volunteering with my mother. which we are both looking forward to. I found it particularly interesting to see the web graphs (wheel) of my thoughts and feelings when I started the course compared to my results now. I truly believe my life is for the better for the path finder scheme and I can’t say that about many experiences I've had in my life. Thank you for your help.

Devon and Cornwall Police now offer an Enhanced Pathfinder service, which you can read about here. They have also recently launched the LEPH Link service, available to read about here.

For more information on Pathfinder, contact the Pathfinder team at


This case-study was originally compiled in 2020 and updated by Isabella Anderson in 2022.

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