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Sowing the seeds of a healthier life

VICTIMS of vandalism and violence will sigh in irritation at the suggestion in the youth crime review (page six) that early intervention should be the priority. Sorting out the under-fives will not stop housebreakings and muggings. Young thugs need to be put away.

Such frustrated reaction is understandable, but the review by the Executive's policy unit argues otherwise because it finds no remedy in punitive action. Detention and fines are both ineffective as deterrents to reoffending and there is a lack of better "disposals" available to the courts and children's hearings. While the existing level of youth crime has to be tackled, isolating the underlying causes should be the main focus.

Hence the emphasis on the under-fives and early intervention, as much with young parents as with their offspring. Poverty and generations of educational underachievement feed the youthcrime statistics. So aside from existing educational programmes within the Executive's special inclusion agenda, hope must rest with initiatives like this week's pound;26 million health improvement package announced by Susan Deacon. The Health Minister said: "We need to sow the seeds for a healthier life in the early years, not allow habits and influences to set in which can blight and shorten lives in the long run."

Young men, and nowadays "liberated" young women, will continue to challenge the limits of adult authority. The level, nature and persistence of offending pose the challenge. In a Bertie Wooster timewarp we could live with a few bobbies' helmets being knocked off on Boat Race Night. In the real world the problem for ministers is to address the long-term solutions while neither dismissing nor overreacting to the frustrated calls for immediate tough action.

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