Crime strategy targets children
Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, told Parliament it was "the first time a centrally co-ordinated programme of such magnitude had been put in place anywhere in the world".
The programme would tackle the social causes of crime through families and schools; it would target prevention measures on crime hotspots; there would be investment to combat burglary; and where prevention failed, the prison and probation service would work with offenders to cut recidivism.
Mr Straw said some of the initiatives, particularly with families and children, would take up to 10 years to make an impact on crime. They would complement the Education Secretary's policies on truanting and exclusion. "We know that if kids don't drop out they stand a better chance of not getting involved in crime," he told The TES.
The Government's strategy was informed by a ground-breaking Home Office report, Reducing Offending, which had its roots in 40 years of research. Its intention was to discover a set of "what works" principles and practices to target cash released by the Treasury's Comprehensive Spending Review. Since the 1920s crime has been rising by 5 per cent a year and priorities have to be identified if this trend is to be reversed.
"It is not true, as it was often said in the 1980s, that "nothing works, " say the authors of the report published this week. "This was an over-simplistic and inaccurate view of the research on offender and crime prevention programmes. "
The report explodes myths such as the effectiveness of the "bobby on the beat", "zero tolerance" and locking up more youngsters. Instead it recommends concentrating on preventing criminality and reducing the risks in children's lives, including poor parenting, poverty, and criminal friends.
Anti-bullying and drug abuse initiatives in schools, mentoring schemes, family-school partnerships and parent training have been shown to be effective and beneficial in preventing crime.
Education, training and employment-related projects also have an important part to play in preventing reoffending as the majority of prisoners have low levels of literacy and numeracy.
The report concludes that none of the initiatives would control crime on its own as multiple interventions were generally more cost-effective than those with a single focus: for example, tackling poor housing and parenting, low attainment and truancy.
Mr Straw told the Commons: "For many years governments have concentrated too much on the effects of crime, to the detriment of its causes. But we can only make a long-term impact on crime and disorder by concentrating on both. "
'Reducing Offending': an assessment of research evidence on ways of dealing with offending behaviour 187, Room 201, Home Office, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT