Joint action to clamp down on youth crime

Diane Spencer

Local authorities are being urged to play a greater role in crime prevention, reports Diane Spencer.

Home affairs minister Alun Michael has urged local authorities to step up efforts to stop young people turning to crime.

Education, police, probation, health and social services had key roles to play, he told delegates at a London conference last week on crime and young people.

His comments coincided with the publication of a consultation paper containing proposals for the Crime and Disorder Bill which is due later this year.

The paper, New national and local focus on youth crime, suggests that a youth justice board should be formed to draw up national standards for new local youth offender teams. Another paper, Tackling delays in the youth justice system proposes to put offending juveniles on a fast track to be tried and sentenced in under 10 weeks - the process currently takes 20 weeks.

Mr Michael said there had been a lack of focus on tackling youth crime nationally and locally. The composition of the teams would be decided locally, but education and health staff would have a key role along with social workers, probation and police officers.

The new board is intended to provide a coherent framework for youth justice issues, and for monitoring local agencies. The Home Office will issue guidance to help get the best out of new arrangements, but the minister said there would be no new money. He said that the Government was not imposing new burdens on local authorities, just focusing existing efforts.

"Crime does not happen in a social vacuum. It is not enough for us to tackle crime through our criminal justice policies. We must also promote consistent and responsible social policies, such as combating unemployment, drugs, bad parenting, failing schools and low educational achievement if we are to be successful," he added.

Eric Brown, Metropolitan police chief superintendent, based in the London borough of Camden which organised the conference, said it was easy to forget that "most young people lead productive and honourable lives".

About 300 of Camden's 20,000 children of school age offended every year. A total of 70 per cent who had been cautioned had not reoffended. "So we need to get it into proportion."

Most offenders had been excluded from school for disruptive behaviour, or had poor literacy and physical co-ordination, bad health or poor relationships with parents. He welcomed the Government's emphasis on partnership between police and local government.

Speakers pointed to the huge proportion of young offenders who had been excluded from school, or who were truants: in all 70 per cent.

Andrew Foster of the Audit Commission said it was an issue for society as a whole. Local authorities had to get their acts together to keep children in school and sort out "dysfunctional funding", he said. "The Government should ensure that money follows strategy in an intelligent way."

Information about the consultation papers from the Juvenile Offenders Unit, Home Office, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1A 9AT

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