Thursday, August 23, 2007

Previous Scottish Executive wasted £100m in failed crackdown on youth crime

Some people seem to be £100m better off after the failed Scottish Executive crackdown on youth crime, instituted of course, by the previous Labour & LibDem controlled administration.

Some people should be asking who actually got the money because it doesn't seem all of it went to where it should have ... Time for an FOI request perhaps ?

The Scotsman reports :

Tackling youth crime: A £100m waste of money


A £100 MILLION Scottish Executive crackdown on youth crime has had no measurable effect on offending, according to a damning report published today.

Ministers in the previous administration launched a stream of initiatives to target youth offending, from antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs) and youth courts to rehabilitation schemes for young offenders.

But Audit Scotland today suggests some of the schemes may have been worthless. While the new programmes have sent the youth-justice budget soaring by £101 million, from £235 million in 2000-1 to £336 million in 2005-6, the number of persistent young offenders (PYOs) has gone up, rather than down.

The report challenges the new SNP administration to take major strides to improve services and reduce youth crime.

It has, more fundamentally, raised doubts over the wider approach being taken to prevent young people from straying into a life of crime, leading some to question whether the system can cope at all with teenagers who are already "hardened troublemakers" by the age of 14 or 15. Funding on youth-justice services run by councils, police, the Scottish Children's Reporter and other bodies has risen by 43 per cent, but auditors found little clear evidence that the money was well spent.

"The impact on the improved services and outcomes is not yet demonstrated and limited progress has been made over the last five years on taking forward several key recommendations from our earlier reports," say the report's authors.

"This raises important questions about the extent to which the new investment offers value for money and delivers effective use of resources."

A glut of programmes to tackle young offending have been introduced in recent years, including police warnings for anti-social behaviour, fast-track hearings for persistent offenders, specialist youth courts and ASBOs. Rehabilitation schemes, to try to divert troubled youngsters from entering a life of crime, have also expanded.

But judged on the one indicator that the Executive paid most attention to - the number of PYOs - the reforms appear to have failed.

Cathy Jamieson, the former justice minister, set a target to reduce the number of PYOs by 10 per cent between 2003-4 and 2005-6, but the numbers rose 15 per cent from 1,201 to 1,388. Some 17,624 young people were referred to the Children's Reporter on offence grounds in 2005-6, with an average of £19,000 from the Executive's youth justice budget spent on each.

Bill Aitken MSP, Conservative justice spokesman, said: "We are going to have to recognise the children's hearing system simply is not able to cope with 14- and 15-year-olds who have, in many instances, already become hardened troublemakers."

Dr Lesley McAra, a criminologist at Edinburgh University who specialises in youth offending, said a large number of troublesome young people could be helped by targeted, proven intervention schemes.

But she said more effort should be put into breaking links between youth crime, deprivation and bad parenting. "Parent classes should be held in schools, to ensure young people have the appropriate skills to give their children the right start," she said, echoing a call by Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of Scotland's violence-reduction unit.

The report, Dealing with Offending by Young People, also criticises the impact of punitive ASBOs for under-16s, which it says has created "tension" with the children's hearing system.

The report states: "Most councils have found it difficult to overcome the differences between the child-centred focus of youth justice under the children's hearings system and the community-focused design of antisocial behaviour legislation."

However, the report does acknowledge progress in several aspects of youth justice since Audit Scotland published a damning critique of the system five years ago.

The improvements include the establishment of standards for youth-justice agencies, speeding up the children's hearing system and providing more services for young offenders.

Ms Jamieson declined to comment on the report, arguing it was the job of politicians to look forward rather than back.

The report welcomed a commitment by the Executive to introduce more robust measures over youth offending. A spokesman said: "The new system will not simply count instances of a young person being referred five or more times, it will take into account changes in the volume, frequency and seriousness of youth offending."

Ministers have also pledged to invest proceeds-of-crime cash recovered by the courts into community projects to encourage young people to lead law-abiding lives.

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