On the road to recovery

21st September 2007 at 01:00
An electronic tagging and intensive support programme for young offenders has had dramatic results, writes Emma Seith

one in five Glasgow youngsters some guilty of crimes as serious as murder and rape stopped offending altogether when placed under an order combining electronic tagging and intensive support, according to a recent report.

Since April 2005, the Children's Hearing System has been able to tag children as young as 12 as an alternative to detention. However, any youngster subject to a tag must also receive intensive support the bulk of which is educational designed to rehabilitate them. The combination of monitoring and support is called the Intensive Support and Monitoring Service.

By March, 41 young people, aged 12-17, had been subject to ISMS orders in Glasgow, according to an evaluation report based on the scheme's first two years. Thirty-four were male and seven female. The majority (93 per cent) were persistent offenders having committed at least five offences in six months. But while subject to the order, 18 per cent stopped offending and 39 per cent reduced their offending.

ISMS was less successful at helping girls than boys. Girls, when electronically tagged, were more likely to break their curfew. They were also less likely to attend support services or reduce offending. The young men spend the bulk of their 28 hours of weekly support in the education unit. The report, however, said it did not provide a sufficiently wide variety of training.

It recommended more links with colleges and employers, and possible expansion of the unit, which it said was short on space and staff.

Overall, however, the ISMS team in Glasgow is celebrating. The most challenging teenagers in the city turned up, on average, for two thirds of their scheduled supports education, befriending services and counselling and those with a tag complied with their movement restrictions over 80 per cent of the time. This was a massive achievement, they said, given their chaotic lifestyles. "These kids don't do appointments," said Linda Robb, youth justice manager for the city.

Youngsters on ISMS orders are considered either a danger to themselves or others. Girls might have been involved in prostitution; boys

might be guilty of violent or sexual assault. Some are murderers.

Since ISMS began, every youngster referred has had problems with drink or drugs and has long since dropped out of school. However, when they first came to the attention of support services, aged just eight, it was through no fault of their own.

Alison Cowper, a social worker at the ISMS education unit, said: "Their first social work involvement will be about care and protection issues parental circumstances and neglect." Mike, 16, stopped going to school in S2. He ended up on ISMS after he "battered" someone on Boxing Day last year and took their mobile phone. Six months later, his order has finished and he has started a landscaping and construction course at Clydebank College.

Some youngsters when they come to ISMS have numeracy and literacy skills equivalent to a child in P1. Others are capable of sitting Standard grades. They study maths, English, music and ICT. Their curriculum is further enhanced by PE, PSE, language support and weekly educational trips.

The education unit has two teachers and two small classrooms. One has a piano, acoustic guitars, a set of DJ decks and computers. "We don't have acoustic drums any more," said Rodger Hughes, one of the two teachers. "We learned that was a bad idea the hard way."

The report, however, said a third of respondents felt the youngsters' educational needs were not being met by the unit. Jack, 15, hopes to sit Standard grades in English and maths: "I could do with a wee bit more subjects."

According to Ms Robb and John Butcher, Glasgow City Council senior education officer, action is being taken. Good links, they said, have been established with Glasgow Metropolitan and Clydebank colleges, and they plan to link up with a secondary school. The education base, they said, was only designed to be a stop-gap. From it, they hope to move youngsters on to other forms of education or training.

The pupils eat breakfast at the unit before lessons start. "Some of them have never sat down at a table to eat before," said Mr Butcher.

Afterwards, they do chores such as clearing the table and tidying surfaces. If they do a good job, they gain points. They also win points for punctuality, working in class, not smoking and not swearing. The points buy them the best activities in the recreation room during breaks pool as opposed to reading the papers and eventually they can earn rewards such as supervised spends. (Today, Jim, 17, who has a history of violent assault, is proudly modelling a Celtic tracksuit he bought with his points.)

"The points system gives the kids a focus and teaches them personal responsibility," said Gerry Jamie-son, the second teacher in the unit.

There are concerns that an increasing number, not yet in their teens, are committing crimes serious enough to warrant orders. Two 11-year-olds recently joined the project. Some comfort can be drawn from the fact that ISMS has proved it can correct bad habits. But will change last when support is withdrawn? The report recommended "an element of relapse prevention" to make sure that it does.

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