Monday, June 02, 2008

Leadership for Change in Youth Justice

A recent internal government report says that Labour's 10-year strategy for tackling youth crime has failed. The briefing document confirms that around 25% of under-18s have committed an offence, while re-offending rates are 'very high and have not significantly changed' since 1997.

The briefing goes on to describe how 5% to 6% of young offenders commit between 50% and 60% of all juvenile crime. It suggests that the worst offenders have a 96% re-offending rate, with each costing taxpayers £80,000 a year. Interestingly, in the 2002 Social Exclusion Unit report addressing re-offending by ex prisoners, it was estimated the cost of a 19 year old persistent male offender was approximately £163,000 per annum. This suggest that different figures have been used in the latest report, with many costs being ignored.

Despite the courts handing down some 34,000 community and 7,000 custodial sentences a year, re-offending rates are amongst the highest in the world. Of note, 70% of male offenders under the age of 18 who receive a community sentence commit further crimes, compared with 76% of those who are given a custodial sentence.

The subject of youth crime is undoubtedly topical and causing much public debate. Importantly, with the prison population being so high, Ministers are now recognising that simply being tough on crime is not working. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, has suggested that increased 'support' to offenders is essential. The briefing states that there is a need to 'address the underlying needs of young offenders to improve their outcomes' and 'produce an ongoing package of care that will provide support after their supervision period ends'.

What is particularly heartening is the changing reaction by the public. In last week's BBC Question Time, when it was suggested that prison does not work, the audience applauded enthusiastically. At last, the reality that crime is primarily caused by a mix of poverty, dysfunction, poor education and family breakdown, and that this cannot be addressed simply by the use of punishment, is permeating through the political corridors and the wider society. Possibly, we are now seeing the start of a process for real change in the Justice system.

Critically, if we keep doing the same things we will undoubtedly keep seeing the same outcomes! One wonders who will provide the necessary 'leadership' for change to arise.

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