The causes of crime are complex. There is now a broad cross-party consensus as to the risk factors for offending, which tend to cluster in the lives of the most disadvantaged children. An understanding of these risk factorswhich include family neglect, poverty, school under-achievement and a lack of positive role modelsis valuable in planning preventative interventions but does not constitute a foolproof method of predicting offending: individuals from all kinds of backgrounds commit crime for a variety of reasons; crime prevention strategies must therefore be multi-faceted.
The Government's Cutting Crime strategy was introduced in 2007 to re-focus crime prevention activity on areas where progress on crime reduction has been slow, particularly youth crime, more serious offending, anti-social behaviour, reducing re-offending and designing-out crime.
To be successful in tackling youth anti-social behaviour and ensuring perpetrators do not progress to more serious offending, enforcement must be coupled with support. Leisure activities will not prevent offending on their own, but interaction with positive models can help to divert young people away from crime. The third sector plays a crucial role in working with individuals at-risk of offending and re-offending, particularly those who are disengaged from mainstream services. Voluntary and community groups are frustrated by high levels of bureaucracy involved in the funding application process; longer-term funding would improve their capacity to sustain interactions with young people.
A more effective long-term prevention strategy must focus on early intervention with young children and their parents. The Government has made a good start in this area, particularly through the Sure Start initiative, but needs to go further, ensuring that support reaches the most vulnerable and is available throughout the childhood years. Starting secondary school is a particularly formative time for children; mentoring would help those lacking support at home to manage this transition.
The Government has reduced the frequency of re-offending but there are still groups of offenders, particularly young men and those serving short-term custodial sentences, with very high re-offending rates. Short custodial sentences make effective rehabilitation almost impossible, but the high level of breaches regrettably make it difficult for us to give unqualified support to greater use of community sentences as an alternative. Prisons must do more to ensure that training and employment provision meets the needs of individual prisoners and the labour market, and to ensure that a higher proportion of individuals benefit from resettlement support.
The Government should place more emphasis on measures to prevent opportunities for crime, including faster progress towards meeting its goal of introducing an early warning system to identify emerging crime trends. Better data about crime trends can also play a role in persuading those in a position to design-out crime opportunities, including businesses, of the need for action. Situational crime prevention will only be fully effective if potential offenders are convinced there is a real risk they will be caught and brought to justice.