Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


226. This Report has focussed on how society deals with convicted criminals, with the principal objectives of protecting the public and reducing the possibility of further crime through alternatives to prison. However, the best alternative to prison is to prevent crime in the first place. We believe that one of the most effective ways of achieving this is by diverting young people away from crime when they are in situations where they might otherwise become offenders. Therefore we support the work of those diversionary schemes which provide activities for young people in areas where youth crime is prevalent.

227. We visited one such scheme: YouthWorks, in Blackburn. There are five YouthWorks initiatives, in Hackney, Leeds, Plymouth, and Sunderland as well as Blackburn. The programmes aims to create safer, high quality environments, by harnessing the energies of young people in a productive way. It works with young people aged 8 to 21 and helps them develop self-esteem and confidence which, the organisers say, in itself helps to divert them away from crime.

228. The programme in Blackburn is based on the Roman Road Estate and began in January 1995. Since then they have involved young people from the estate in a number of activities around the estate, for example, wood carving, painting, I.T. work and football training. There is also now a successful Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme running on the estate. We were particularly impressed by the attractive wood carvings the young people had done and by the fact that in an estate where we were told that petty vandalism had been rife, these had been left unmolested. We thought this illustrated the benefits of encouraging young people to take a constructive attitude to their environment.

229. As well as improving the physical environment of the estate, the programme appears to be achieving its wider aim of reducing youth crime in the area. When it began, Roman Road Estate was number one in a ranking of police beats in terms of crimes committed; now it is number 14. We were told that in year one of the programme there was a 35 per cent reduction in crime across the estate and that this was sustained in years two and three. So successful has the scheme been in terms of reducing vandalism on the estate, that North British Housing Association, who own many of the properties on it say that their annual estate management costs have been reduced by 50-60 per cent. The scheme also involves adults from the estate as volunteers and a number of these have gone on to gain full-time employment partly as a result of the experience and qualifications they gained while working for YouthWorks.

230. Another visit we made was to the Dalston Youth project, which runs two projects, one for 11-14 year olds and the other for 15-18 year olds. Both projects work with young people who are at risk of becoming repeat offenders; many have already offended and a large number are excluded from school. They are referred by police, youth workers, social workers and schools and, once on the course attend a residential course and regular group activities, including pre-employment training, educational activities and social meetings.. The most noteworthy aspect of the project, however, is the involvement of volunteers to act as mentors on a one-to-one basis with the young people. They meet the young person with whom they are working each week over the course of a year and offer help and advice to the young people. We were told that this can be particularly effective because the mentor is not associated with "establishment" figures against whom the young people might rebel, such as teachers, family and social services workers. The project won the 1995 Home Office "Make a Difference Award" as well as an award for racial harmony.

231. This scheme is of particular interest as it is working with many young people who have been, or are at risk of being, excluded from school. While school exclusions are outside the remit of this Report, we must note the worrying increase in the numbers of people excluded from school, and the relationship between exclusions and crime. The Prime Minister stated in a written answer that "the numbers permanently excluded from school stand at around 13,000 a year and have been rising fast. Over 100,000 are excluded temporarily".[269] The Audit Commission's 1994 report Misspent Youth stated that "42 per cent of offenders of school age who are sentenced in the youth court have been excluded from school". It also stated that "one local authority found that 58 per cent of those children aged 11 or over who had been permanently excluded offended either in the year before or the year after their exclusion".[270] The link between youth crime and exclusions is alarming and the fact that exclusions are increasing makes it imperative to tackle this problem; otherwise society is simply storing up trouble for the future.

232. Diverting young people from crime was recognised as a worthwhile activity by a number of the witnesses who gave evidence to us. Lord Bingham's evidence stated that "the strongest possible support should be given to agencies, whether public or private, whether national or local, which seek to identify and assist potential delinquents before they are drawn into a destructive cycle of offending. Whether this is viewed in human, social or financial terms, this must make sense".[271] This view was also supported by NACRO, the Penal Affairs Consortium and the Howard League for Penal Reform.[272]

233. The Home Secretary and the Prisons and Probation Minister both supported diversion from crime work. Mr Jack Straw MP told us "diversion projects can be effective", and that the Young Offending Teams proposed in the Crime and Disorder Bill would help to create a more co-ordinated approach to youth crime, which would include some diversion.[273] Mr Peter Coad, who, as we have seen, made some scathing criticisms of the probation service regarding their work with offenders in the community, thought there could be a role for the service in carrying out this kind of work, in tandem with social services, youth services and education departments; he was also optimistic that the Crime and Disorder Bill would facilitate such work.[274]

234. Despite the support which exists for the idea of diverting young people from crime, those schemes which exist to carry out such work find themselves in a constant battle for funds. YouthWorks in Blackburn, for instance, costs £180,000 a year to run—the equivalent of seven and a half adult prison places, and yet its one full-time worker finds himself struggling to raise this money from a variety of sponsors. Currently, the largest single donation has come from National Lottery funds, although this is unlikely to be repeated. The precarious financial situations such projects find themselves in make it difficult to make long-term plans and takes up the valuable time of their workers which could be more usefully spent with the young people concerned.

235. One of the reasons such work is funded erratically is, according to Rob Allen of NACRO, because "it does not fall within the remit of any one agency". He told us that, despite research which suggested that such early intervention was cost-effective,[275] the resources of individual agencies were strained to an extent where they could not fund this kind of longer-term work: "police are now enjoined not to devote their resources to this sort of preventive work. Similarly with social services, their statutory duties are such that putting money into this prevention, although in the longer term it is the way forward, is very difficult to do practically".[276]

236. The Prisons and Probation Minister told us that the Government supported work aimed to divert young people form crime and that measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill would help to achieve this; she went on, however: "I cannot give you a guarantee on resources...except of course that the Government has said that the measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill need to be resourced, but a lot of resources I think are already in the budgets of these various organisations together and they will be able to look at the local situation and identify needs that are there and see what looks as if it is going to be most effective in promoting useful initiatives precisely with the group of young people that you are talking about".[277] The importance of evaluating diversion work has been made by a recent Home Office assessment of research which said that evidence existed to suggest that this kind of work could be successful in reducing crime, but that much of this evidence came from North America. The assessment stated that "there are many promising approaches in England and Wales which have yet to be rigorously evaluated".[278]

237. In addition to looking for additional resources, agencies should ensure they work together to make the most of existing facilities. For example, greater use should be made of school playing fields and other resources out of school hours, to provide additional recreational facilities for young people. The new Youth Offending Teams should provide a focus for co-ordinating such activity.

238. As well as looking at what criminal justice agencies should do with offenders once they have committed crimes, we feel that much greater attention should be concentrated on what can be done to divert young people who are at risk of offending away from a life of crime. This is why we were particularly impressed by the work of those projects we visited—YouthWorks in Blackburn and the Dalston Youth Project—which provide activities and support for young people, to help them turn away from crime. We were excited by the hard work and enthusiasm of all those—volunteers as well as professionals—who work to make these schemes a success.

239. In terms of overall Government expenditure, these schemes are cheap. YouthWorks in Blackburn costs £180,000 to run each year; but this is meagre compared to the value it adds to the community in terms of the young people it diverts from offending, the reduced crime rates, the diminished burdens on the police, the courts and other criminal justice agencies, the enhanced quality of life on the estate it serves, the reduced maintenance costs because of less graffiti and vandalism, and the improved self-esteem of the young people involved. The cost-effectiveness of such schemes is difficult to quantify and impossible to ignore.

240. We are pleased to note the support of the Home Secretary and the Prisons and Probation Minister for work aimed at diverting young people from crime, and welcome the fact that the new Youth Offending Teams should make it easier for this work to be done on an inter-agency basis. However, unlike the Prisons and Probation Minister, we are not convinced that even working together these agencies will have adequate resources for this work to the extent where it could really be effective. If ever there were a case for Government taking a long-term perspective—and indeed, being tough on the causes of crime—this is it. Relatively modest expenditure now could bring extensive savings in the future, but this requires political will and farsightedness. We note that, in his statement on the allocation of Home Office funding,[279] the Home Secretary has given work aimed at diverting vulnerable persons from getting involved in crime a specific place in his crime reduction strategy; such projects will therefore be able to benefit from the £250m earmarked in support of the strategy.

241. We welcome the the prospect of extra funding for this kind of diversion work announced by the Home Secretary following the Comprehensive Spending Review and we look forward to such work being accorded a much higher priority than ever before. Because it is not aimed at solving a problem in the short term, it has been at the back of the queue when it comes to funding. This is a subject which we may well want to investigate further in the future.

269  Official Report, 11 May 1998, Col. 18. Back

270  Misspent Youth, Audit Commission, November 1996, p 66. Back

271  Speech given to the Police Foundation on 10 July 1997. Back

272  Qs 439-444. Back

273  Qs 12 and 13. Back

274  Qs 235 and 236. Back

275  Q 443. Back

276  Q 442. Back

277  Q 841. Back

278  Reducing offending: an assessment of research evidence on ways of dealing with offending behaviour, Home Office Research Study 187, July 1998, p. 18. We also note the Home Office's statement to us that the current round of funding from the Home Office's Programme Development Unit (PDU) for 1996-99 committed a total of £2.1m to a programme of projects aimed at early intervention with young people at risk of criminality and that diversion work is also funded through the Single Regeneration Budget by the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (HC 1063, 1997-98, p. 7, paras vi-vii). The Home Office also told us that the New Deal "will create new hope and opportunities for a large number of youngsters, some of whom might otherwise have drifted into crime or antisocial behaviour (HC 562-i,1997-98, Annex B). Back

279  Home Secretary's statement Official Report 21 July 1998 cols 914-15. Back

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