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Ulster project threatened

A PROJECT which produced dramatic cuts in crime among some of Northern Ireland's most hardened young offenders faces the axe unless more funding can be found.

The Youth at Risk programme in West Belfast helped young people who had committed an average of nearly 400 crimes each, including theft, assaults, burglary, drugs or so-called joy-riding. They had often been knee-capped or beaten by paramilitaries as a result.

Youth at Risk began as a scheme for drug-abusers in the United States and involves a 10-day "tough love" residential course, during which young offenders are confronted about their crimes.

It aims to promote self-esteem, help young people manage their feelings and develop a sense of values. This is followed by a nine-month follow-through programme, and a three-month graduation phase. A group of volunteers works with the young people throughout the process.

An independent evaluation showed a 36 per cent reduction in offences, three times more than in a range of other anti-delinquency programmes, which averaged a 10 to 12 per cent cut in crime.

The Probation Board for Northern Ireland, which invited Youth at Risk to run the project on short-term funding, is now trying to gain money to extend it to the rest of Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland.

The West Belfast pilot scheme was relatively expensive at pound;7,000 for each of the 28 people who completed the residential stage. But a spokesperson said this was very low compared with the pound;55,292 annual bill per person at the Young Offenders' Centre at Hydebank.

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