Steering young people away from crime

I think people would be quite shocked if anyone said that we are going to incarcerate 86% more 15-17 years, but that is what has happened over the last seven years.The lock ’em up mentality might create a moment’s comfort to those plagued by antisocial behaviour.But with scant resource to attempt any form rehabilitation, the few months respite communities get from their local ruffians being banged up are overshadowed when they are let loose again, particularly with all the new skills they have learnt on the inside.

Restorative justice isn’t a new idea, but it certainly is effective in bringing an offender face to face with the reality and consequence of his or her actions.Liberal Democrats would like to see a real investment in community sentencing and pilots of community courts in Liverpool have seen real results in preventing re-offending.With the Web 2.0 generation, why not rehabilitation 2.0?Programmes should be tailored to the offender.

Investment is really the key. While the Government seems happy trying to win the biggest prison award, the simple economics of restorative justice just passes them by.The fact is most five star hotels are cheaper than a night in youth custody centre.So imagine what that 86% growth in youth offender population could have bought in terms of rehabilitation.

Liberal Democrat councils across the country have pioneered Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs), an alternative to punitive and largely unsuccessful ASBOs that have led to boom in youth offender populations.An ABC used as an early invention tool will act to solve the causes of antisocial behaviour.The biggest difference is that the young people themselves are involved in setting achievable and realistic outcomes that are more likely to be stuck to.

In tandem none of these efforts will succeed if we do not take greater action to catch these criminals.Instead of pointless and expensive ID cards we need more police on our streets using an intelligence led approach to target young people carrying knives.Community policing supported by Liberal Democrats has reconnected police officers with the community they serve and allowed them tap into the wealth local knowledge.The success Operation Trident in dealing guns crime in black communities is down to working with not against the black community.A similar attitude to youth crime is likely to reap rewards.

In spite of government announcements or Conservative press releases, there really is no magic wand that will solve youth criminality in one go.Poverty, drug abuse and alcohol abuse will continue to be the leading causes.As policy makers we can never afford to lose sight of this fact.

This article appeared in the September 2008 edition of the Parliamentary Monitor.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008