The Government's Approach to Crime Prevention - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  The Government appeared to make good progress on some aspects of its crime prevention agenda in its first ten years in office. In particular, British Crime Survey and police data showed significant reductions in vehicle crime and burglary, continuing the downward trend begun in 1995. Additional funding and incentives were provided to focus local efforts on crime reduction in a much more co-ordinated manner. However, despite a reformed youth justice system whose overarching function was defined in statute as the prevention of crime, the numbers of young people entering the criminal justice system had actually increased by 2007. Furthermore, progress to reduce re-offending was unsatisfactory: offenders with previous convictions continued to be responsible for around half of all crime. Perceptions of anti-social behaviour did not improve dramatically, and public confidence in the criminal justice system was shockingly low. In our inquiry, we sought to judge the success of the Government's approach to crime prevention by assessing how well its current strategy, introduced in 2007, addresses these outstanding shortcomings. (Paragraph 10)

2.  The overarching themes of the Government's current crime prevention strategy, Cutting Crime, reflect what the evidence suggests are the outstanding gaps in performance on crime reduction over the previous decade. However, we have a general concern about the evidence base used to support the implementation of measures to achieve these aims, some of which we explore in more detail later in our Report. Witnesses found it difficult to assess the extent to which individual measures have contributed to crime reduction. We understand that the Government often faces pressure to respond to crime concerns immediately, but Ministers should still ensure that interventions are properly scoped, piloted and evaluated. In doing this they should take account of the experiences of victims and offenders, such as the organisation User Voice set up by former offenders for this precise purpose. (Paragraph 15)

Preventing youth criminality

3.  The prevailing understanding of the root causes of criminal behaviour is informed by many years of international research. We were struck by a far greater cross-party consensus about the causes of criminality than in the past, which bodes well for consistent policy-making. Most witnesses outlined a set of risk factors for offending which centred on family dysfunction, school and community under-achievement and poverty. The evidence suggests that these factors cluster in the lives of the most deprived children, and that these children are significantly more likely to offend than their counterparts who are not at-risk. The impact of family relationships is crucial: good parental care is a strong protective factor and should therefore constitute a key policy objective. However, it is important that governments do not use measures to promote parenting or support "problem" families to mask the need to do more to reduce poverty in communities. (Paragraph 24)

4.  The ability to identify those most at-risk of offending is an important tool in planning and implementing preventative interventions. However, it is important not to place too much emphasis on this: predicting offending is by no means an exact science. Many individuals from deprived backgrounds choose not to commit crime; conversely, many individuals who enjoyed a privileged upbringing do. As many as 33% of males born in 1953 had a criminal conviction by the age of 46. Our discussions with former offenders warned us against making assumptions about the causes of offending behaviour: they did not all come from broken homes or do poorly in school. Tackling these risk factors, whilst a laudable aim in itself, should not form the entire basis of crime prevention strategies. (Paragraph 25)

5.  The Government's approach in relation to supporting young children and their parents, principally through Sure Start, drew the most praise during our inquiry. Witnesses agreed that improving outcomes for young children and bolstering parenting support was extremely likely to be effective in long-term prevention. Evidence suggests that health visiting is a particularly key component. In order to reap the maximum benefits, schemes must ensure that support is reaching the most deprived families, and that parenting support is available throughout a child's life, not just in the early years. The Government should pay close attention to the package of early intervention measures being put into practice by One Nottingham, with a view to encouraging their implementation elsewhere, if demonstrated to be successful. (Paragraph 31)

6.  Given that a quarter of young people who commit anti-social behaviour progress to more serious offending, tough enforcement of anti-social behaviour should have a positive impact on reducing crime. However, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) will not achieve this end unless it is both coupled with effective support interventions and is properly supervised. There should be greater efforts to encourage the attachment of Individual Support Orders to ASBOs and to follow-up the high level of breaches. (Paragraph 38)

7.  Despite the introduction of ASBOs and other forms of intervention with young people at risk of offending, in many cases problem behaviour still goes unchallenged for too long. It is important to find a mechanism for dealing with this while avoiding criminalising young people. Challenging bullying is one important component of this; we were encouraged that in Sutton, for example, anti-bullying sessions will form part of the provision in their new Life Centre, and recommend that the results of this experience are shared with other areas once evaluated. (Paragraph 39)

8.  Given the importance of family relationships as a factor influencing future offending, interventions that focus on the behaviour of family units as a whole would appear to be a useful crime prevention tool. An initial evaluation of Family Intervention Programmes demonstrated their potential to reduce anti-social behaviour and other forms of problem behaviour, although we would advocate a further study that tracks the long-term results of intervention over the coming years. This level of family support does seem to be very expensive. However, there are indications it can be cost-effective in the long run given the extent of unco-ordinated contact that typically takes place between problem families and the myriad statutory agencies dealing with the implications of their behaviour. We consider that it would be useful for the National Audit Office to undertake further research in this area. (Paragraph 43)

9.  The Prime Minister recently announced an extension of Family Intervention Programmes from 10,000 to 56,000 in 2015. The Home Office Minister admitted this figure was calculated on the basis of available resources rather than an assessment of the number of families who would benefit from intervention. The Centre for Social Justice has estimated that 10% of the population are growing up in "dysfunctional" families, a figure likely to rise to 25% within 20 years on current trends. Intervening to reduce these numbers would require a huge level of resources. This gives greater weight to the argument to intervene early with young children and their parents to prevent the escalation of problem behaviour. (Paragraph 44)

10.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that Parenting Orders are an effective means of improving parent-child interactions, a crucial protective factor against future offending. Levels of use are disappointing, however. The Crime and Security Bill currently going through Parliament would require the courts to give consideration to attaching a Parenting Order when handing down an ASBO, with attachment compulsory upon breach. There will be good reasons why in some cases the award of a Parenting Order is not appropriate but we hope that the legislation, if passed, will be a useful tool in increasing parenting support. Youth offending teams must ensure there is adequate provision to allow this to take place. Ideally, those parents in need of support should be able to access it before matters progress to this stage. (Paragraph 48)

11.  Despite the fact that the principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending, only 7% of the Youth Justice Board's £511m budget is ring-fenced specifically for prevention. We are disappointed that initial increases in recent years were diminished by a decrease of £2m between 2008 and 2009. The large sums spent on incarcerating young people means there is less money available for preventative activities. There are currently no financial incentives for local authorities to work towards reducing the use of custody, as the custody budget is held centrally. We urge the Government to give consideration to the introduction of such incentives. (Paragraph 52)

12.  The expansion of the Positive Activities for Young People (PAYP) initiative to provide diversionary activities on Friday and Saturday nights is to be welcomed, considering the historical deficiencies in youth service provision. The police have witnessed a reduction in problem behaviour on the part of young people following this expansion, although their representative acknowledged the difficulty in linking the two directly, as it was accompanied by additional preventative measures. (Paragraph 63)

13.  Properly planned diversionary activities are valued by young people but will not reduce crime on their own. After they have taken part in such activities, young people return to find the challenges they face in their home and their community unchanged. The real benefit of such activities from a crime-prevention perspective is the exposure to positive role models and a glimpse of the attractions of a crime-free lifestyle, through interaction with a "trusted adult" who helps the young person to develop their self-esteem and to take responsibility for their own actions. (Paragraph 64)

14.  In order to have a preventative effect, successful schemes must therefore receive long-term financial support to ensure such interactions can be sustained. We were inspired by the work of organisations working with at-risk young people, such as Cricket for Change, but depressed by tales of hard work falling by the wayside because of a lack of money. The Government and local authorities should make it easier for such voluntary organisations to thrive by providing funding on a longer-term basis and decreasing the bureaucratic burden; and prioritise organisations that include design input from potential users. (Paragraph 65)

15.  Young children from deprived backgrounds are less likely to develop emotional intelligence, self-esteem and basic conflict-resolution skills in the home. We consider that the early years of schooling should therefore place more focus on these areas, and advocate further expansion of the conflict resolution activity undertaken by Safer Schools Partnerships. The transition from primary school to secondary school has been highlighted as particularly important in affecting a child's life chances, including their risk of offending. Former offenders told us that they would have benefited from a mentor to help them through this process. The Department for Children, Schools and Families should give consideration to expanding the peer mentoring scheme that currently operates in some schools, with a particular focus on making provision available for pupils about to start secondary school and encouraging the use of mentors who have undergone similar experiences to children judged to be at-risk of offending. (Paragraph 69)

Reducing re-offending

16.  The overall re-offending rate for the cohort of offenders released from custody or beginning a community sentence over the following year has continued to fall over the last few years in terms of actual re-offending and frequency of re-offending. The biggest falls relate to the frequency of re-offending; those for actual re-offending are less substantial. However, those with prior convictions still account for around half of all crime committed and this has remained unchanged since 2000. For young males the likelihood of re-offending may be as high as 80%. (Paragraph 74)

17.  The risk factors for re-offending are well understood across the relevant agencies having been clearly articulated by the Government's Social Exclusion Unit in 2002. The need for increased practical support to help offenders find employment and accommodation having served their sentence, as well as for mentoring to assist re-integration came across particularly strongly in our evidence. Measures to mitigate these risk factors form the basis of the Government's strategy to reduce re-offending, which is helpful. (Paragraph 78)

18.  Increased levels of investment in prisoner education and training, offending behaviour and resettlement care have contributed to reductions in reported crime levels; however, there is still a high level of unmet need. The Government wants to "focus resources in prison and probation where they will make the most difference": this is a worthy aim; however, as we noted earlier, the lack of an effective evidence base may make this difficult to determine. (Paragraph 85)

19.  We are pleased to note the Chief Inspector of Prisons' assessment of the improvement in the quality of educational and vocational training in prisons. However, we were concerned that quantity of provision is still an issue, and that insufficient progress had been made to address the conclusions about a lack of purposeful activity drawn by our predecessor committee in 2005. We were struck by the assessment of one former inmate that prisons just "storage people". Sentence planning should be improved to ensure that prisoners can access and complete the courses that would be most of benefit to them. The threat of budget cuts has the potential to reverse the advances made in quality. Considering the vast cost of crime to society, cuts in this area appear irrational. (Paragraph 90)

20.  Last year only 38% of prisoners went into training, education or employment on release. Preparing prisoners to enter the labour market should be a key objective for prison authorities; it is therefore disappointing that, for example, the social enterprise at HMP Coldingley was forced to close in 2008 apparently because of the inflexibility of prison management. The National Offender Management Service must ensure that schemes operating within prisons teach skills relevant to future employment opportunities and portray working life in a good light. The National Grid Young Offenders programme attributes its low re-offending rates to the guarantee of employment for participants upon release from prison and payment of a decent wage: this would be a good model to replicate, although the numbers of prisoners eligible for release on temporary licence and with the requisite literacy levels for participation in such schemes are low. (Paragraph 98)

21.  The Ministry of Justice has initiated a Corporate Alliance to champion offender employment. This partnership should be assisting employers in becoming more sophisticated in their risk assessments of former offenders. We feel strongly that public sector bodies should be setting a good example to other employers through their recruitment practices in this area. In 2002 the Government pledged to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to limit the damage of excessively long disclosure periods for some offenders; we would like to know why legislation to achieve this has not been yet brought forward. (Paragraph 99)

22.  Ex-offenders with the right attributes are ideally qualified for youth work with troubled young people because of their experiences. Often they may be the only people to whom such young people will listen. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice pilot a scheme to allow young offenders to access youth work qualifications in custody. (Paragraph 100)

23.  Witnesses, including Government Ministers, were unanimous in their view that short prison sentences do not allow time for effective rehabilitative interventions to take place. Around 60% of adults serving less than a year are convicted of at least one offence in the year after release. This compares with predicted re-offending rates of 25% for prisoners serving four years and over. However, use of these short sentences has shot up over the past decade. The problem is particularly acute in relation to young offenders, who spend an average of 73 days in custody. The rise in short sentences has contributed towards prison overcrowding, which itself compromises the rehabilitation process as increased prisoner transfer around the secure estate restricts their ability to complete training and treatment. (Paragraph 107)

24.  We discuss alternative options to short custodial sentences below; but where they are handed down, improved case management between prisons and probation officers is key to ensuring that interventions can be continued in a community setting. Adult offenders serving less than 12 months are not currently assigned a probation officer. In 2003 the Government legislated for a new form of sentencing, known as custody plus, which would allow for offenders to serve a short custodial sentence followed by supervision in the community; we are disappointed that there is "no prospect" of this being implemented in the near future. (Paragraph 108)

25.  Progress on delivering resettlement support in recent years is likely to have been the key factor in reducing re-offending. However, not enough prisoners are receiving support in preparing for release, especially in relation to finance, benefits and debt. Former prisoners with whom we spoke often had the best intentions to lead crime-free lives upon leaving prison but found it impossible to stick to this path when confronted with unresolved problems. We support increased mentoring after release into the community to build their resilience. (Paragraph 113)

26.  The strategy to tackle repeat offenders through the Prolific and Priority Offender programme is based on sound evidence and appears to be working well, with the new Integrated Offender Management approach proving particularly successful at reducing re-offending in the areas in which it has been piloted. Although the number of criminals sentenced for indictable offences in 2008 who had 15 or more previous convictions actually rose to 28% in 2008 from 17% in 2000, prolific offenders accounted for the largest reduction in the frequency of re-offending that took place between 2000 and 2007. The Government should maintain and strengthen its focus on prolific and priority offenders as an integral part of its crime prevention approach. (Paragraph 117)

27.  One means of dealing with the problems inherent in shorter custodial sentences is through greater use of community orders, which allow for rehabilitation without exacerbating some of the risk factors inherent in custodial sentences, such as loss of accommodation. Witnesses considered that advances had been made in their effectiveness. However, community orders will only be a satisfactory substitute if properly supervised. The numbers of reported breaches rose by 47% between 2006 and 2008. It is difficult to establish how much of this rise is attributable to increased enforcement action, which would be a positive development, but evidence suggests it is at least in part due to the overloading of probation officers. We therefore find it difficult, regrettably, to give our unqualified support to an increased use of community orders at this time. (Paragraph 121)

Deterring criminals —designing-out crime

28.  Most crime is opportunistic. Designing out opportunities for crime can bypass social problems which are unresponsive to other approaches and often need only a short time to implement and have an effect. The approach has been particularly successful in reducing vehicle crime. We welcome the renewed emphasis given to designing-out crime in the Cutting Crime strategy and the establishment of the Home Secretary's Design and Technology Alliance. However, we note concerns that the Government continues to place insufficient emphasis on this area of crime prevention. (Paragraph 129)

29.  In order to be successful, initiatives to design-out crime should be accompanied by a clear communications strategy to raise awareness amongst potential criminals of the increased level of risks and thereby increase the deterrent effect. Marketing strategies should also capitalise on increased consumer demand for safe products. (Paragraph 133)

30.  A Home Office Research Study in 1998 highlighted the need for "continuous" research and development "to keep ahead of obsolescence", combined with a "national 'surveillance system' enabling rapid response to the identification of emergent crime targets, and new tools and methods of offending". (Paragraph 135)

31.  It is very disappointing that conclusions about the need for "continuous" research and development and a "national 'surveillance system' enabling rapid response to the identification of emergent crime targets, and new tools and methods of offending" identified in a Home Office Research Study in 1998 have not yet been translated into action. The Government has acknowledged that progress in this area is too slow. (Paragraph 140)

32.  The current limitations on the analysis of crime trends was illustrated during our inquiry by the issue of car registration plates. The ability to confirm expert suspicions about the extent of the involvement of forged or stolen car registration plates in crimes would give greater impetus to the Department for Transport to implement Electronic Vehicle Implementation, which would in turn increase the effectiveness of Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology which relies on the integrity of the plate. We commend the work being undertaken with Merseyside Police to identify emerging crime waves through use of more sophisticated software and hope that this can be implemented more widely, including to resolve the issue of insecure car number plates. (Paragraph 141)

Deterring criminals—public confidence in the criminal justice system

33.  Situational crime prevention will only be effective if potential offenders are convinced there is a real risk they will be caught and brought to justice. Efforts to improve public confidence is a crucial part of this. In our view, this is the area in which the Government has made least progress. Building on the introduction of the policing pledge, there must be a consistent push by local agencies across the country to increase the awareness of policing and sentencing activity. (Paragraph 145)

Roles and responsibilities

34.  The advent of better multi-agency working through crime and disorder reduction partnerships represents an important step forward in crime prevention; however, not all operate to the same high standard. The Home Office has identified the importance of strong leadership in crime and disorder reduction partnership performance but we remain uncertain as to how this is being enhanced in under-achieving areas. Effective partnerships are also rigorous in their collection and analysis of data to support their crime reduction activities, and able to incentivise active involvement on the part of all relevant agencies by highlighting the benefits of involvement for their work streams. The Department for Children, Schools and Families expects that Children's Trust Boards will drive improved co-ordination for delivery of diversionary activities for young people: we hope that our successor Committee in the next parliament will revisit this issue at an appropriate juncture. (Paragraph 150)

35.  We appreciate that the Government is currently having to make tough decisions about funding. We do, however, anticipate that the cut to the Safer and Stronger Communities Fund will have a negative impact on the ability of some local authorities to deliver crime reduction initiatives. (Paragraph 153)

36.  The third sector can play a crucial role in providing preventative initiatives and support for those at risk of offending or re-offending of the kind we discussed earlier in our Report. They tend to be more popular with service users, particularly those who distrust statutory agencies. We are pleased that the Home Office and Ministry of Justice have recognised this through the development of formal strategies with the voluntary sector. Voluntary sector groups are, however, frustrated by high levels of bureaucracy. In particular those groups best able to engage the hard-to-reach may lack the capacity to apply for funding. There is also evidence that more members of the public would like to play a more active role in crime prevention through activities such as Neighbourhood Watch and volunteering with young people. We heard evidence from the Home Office about its work to build capacity with volunteers; this should include support for funding applications from groups engaging hard-to-reach groups. (Paragraph 159)

37.  Many businesses will consider they have little incentive to protect their products from theft given that they may actually benefit commercially from a crime wave. Appeals to a sense of social responsibility may be insufficient to encourage businesses to take a serious approach to designing-out crime from their products. On occasions a tougher approach to force businesses to act has been successful; further opportunities may be generated by extending regulations to put some kind of crime prevention duty on businesses. However, persuading businesses of the benefits for action, particularly through emphasis on the popularity of secure products with the public, would be the optimum approach. It is important to have an effective evidence base in order to be able to demonstrate clearly to manufacturers where the problems lie. We therefore reiterate our earlier conclusion about the need for more action to develop a system for the earlier identification of emerging crime trends. (Paragraph 165)

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