Schemes aimed at disaffected teenagers have reduced the number of brushes with the law. Steve Hook reports
TEENAGE crime has been slashed by up to 70 per cent in some parts of the country through a series of special projects including after-school and holiday clubs, a new report reveals.
It shows that the link between crime and boredom among disaffected youngsters in deprived urban areas is more than merely anecdotal.
In Southwark, criminal damage fell by 39 per cent and there was a 62 per cent reduction in theft of vehicles after sports activities, museum trips and art classes were laid on for youngsters.
Youth arrests and cautions dropped by between 30 and 70 per cent in Blackburn, Sunderland, Leeds, Plymouth and Hackney when teenagers were given help in gaining qualifications and encouraged to do community work.
In Bolton, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in youth-related crime after the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders acted as a consultant to local youth projects, urging them to take on those at risk of getting into trouble.
In a report just published, NACRO says crime can be prevented by providing a more positive outlet for young people's energy.
"The available evidence suggests that well-structured activity programmes for at-risk young people in disadvantaged, high-crime areas can make an important contribution to reducing youth crime."
Helen Edwards, its chief executive added: "We need to increase and extend our neighbourhood activity-based work which can engage youn people's interests, provide opportunities for positive achievement and divert their energies away from crime.
"Such an approach will do more to reduce crime than any number of changes in sentencing or penal policy."
Across the country, up to 1,000 young children and 130 volunteers have been involved in running projects at any one time.
Schemes include after-school and school holiday activities, football and other sports, arts such as music and photography, mentoring and help with employment.
In Salford, NACRO has been running a community football project since 1994, setting up clubs which are then run by volunteers who supervise training, matches, tournaments, league competitions and social events.
French football star Eric Cantona coached some of the children as part of his community service after a court conviction in 1997.
A NACRO mentoring scheme in Wolverhampton (see right) provides young people with suitably-experienced adults who can help them with their personal development. This can include educational support, advice on relationships and how to find treatment for drug-dependency.
Co-ordinator Charlie White said: "One young person had been out of school for two years before coming to the scheme.
"He was linked to a mentor and they developed a really good relationship.
"The mentor managed to get him into school and he's now at college looking at his options."
"Making a difference: preventing crime through youth activity" is available at pound;3 from NACRO, 169 Clapham Rd, London SW9 OPU