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Cut youth custody in half, prevent re-offending AND save money. How the Government should tackle youth crime

A new book edited by David Smith, visiting professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has backed calls for the Government to halve the number of young people taken into custody.

youth_crimeA New Response to Youth Crime accompanies the report by the ‘Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour’, which recommends a system of restorative justice – whereby young offenders face up to the harm they have caused their victims and make amends – to be a key part of Government’s efforts to tackle youth crime. Politicians also need to end the ‘arms race’ to sound tougher about youth crime and find effective and efficient ways to prevent young people re-offending.

Even though the actual level of crime has continuously fallen since 1994, new and seemingly ‘tougher’ legislation has poured out of successive administrations with young people often the target.

Yet steeply rising expenditure on youth justice has yielded poor returns.

The Commission’s report Time for a Fresh Start estimates the public service costs of dealing with youth crime and antisocial behaviour as more than £4 billion a year. Millions of pounds are being wasted each year on custody for the under-18s. Despite each secure place costing taxpayers between £69,000 and £193,000 a year, as many as three out of four young offenders are re-convicted within a year of completing their sentence.

The Commission concludes that restorative ‘youth conferences’ are the way to deliver better justice for the victims of crime, while cutting re-offending rates and reducing the number of young people who end up in prison. Based on a successful model introduced in Northern Ireland seven years ago, restorative youth conferences should be used in all but the most serious cases.

Professor Smith and his colleagues on the Commission call on the Government to halve the current use of custody to fewer than a thousand young offenders at any one time, without adding to crime rates and compromising public safety. The Commission also urges a significant reinvestment of resources in early intervention to tackle seriously antisocial behaviour among children, prevent later offending and save more money for the taxpayer.

Commenting on the release of A New Response to Youth Crime, Professor Smith said:

“This is a real opportunity for the coalition Government to end the unseemly arms race between politicians vying to sound tougher on youth crime. This book and report are particularly timely as the Secretary of State for Justice very recently suggested that the UK needs to find workable alternatives to custody.

“It is vital that we find effective solutions to tackle youth crime, such as restorative youth conferences, otherwise thousands of young people will continue to be trapped in a vicious cycle of crime, imprisonment and re-offending. The recommendations of the Commission would not only help to cut re-offending rates but would save money in the long run - a win-win situation for all concerned.”

/end.

Notes:

A New Response to Youth Crime, edited by Professor David J Smith, is published by Willan.

Professor David J Smith is visiting professor at the Mannheim Centre/Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science and honorary professor of criminology at the University of Edinburgh. He is a member of the 'Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour’, which published its report Time for a Fresh Start, on 15th July 2010.

16th July 2010

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