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Thirdly, the report finds the focus on early and rapid intervention by the criminal justice system has led to an expansion of that system into areas outside its remit—parenting programmes and youth inclusion and support programmes to identify children at risk of offending. I have commented before to your Lordships on this Government's perversion of the criminal justice system, which developed over the centuries to deal with crime and punishment, to a new function: social engineering, a tool for risk management. Go into your local magistrates’ and risk managers’ court; turn left for the beaks and right for the risk managers. This has been commented upon on a number of recent occasions.

On the topic of finance, total Youth Justice Board spending on youth justice has increased since the year 2000, when the youth offending teams first became operational, by £267 million to £650 million, a real-terms increase of 45 per cent, so additional money in real terms has been made available. A significant proportion of that money, 31 per cent, has been drawn from the budgets of social agencies: health, education, local authorities, and above all social services. They have been raided. Has the money gone to positive programmes? No, the bulk of that £650 million, 64 per cent, has gone into purchasing secure accommodation, some provided by the private sector in secure training centres, and some by local authorities in secure children's homes. Sixty-four per cent goes on locking children up. Five per cent is spent on prevention programmes, two per cent on community education, and 16.5 per cent on youth offending team funding, including money for substance abuse programmes and other interventions,

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such as anger management courses, education training and employment projects. Ten times more is spent on custody than on preventing crime by young children. The Youth Justice Board recognises that. In a presentation to a seminar on 5 April this year, the YJB representative said of its prevention strategy:

The report concludes that substantial sums have been transferred from policy areas that are critical to tackling the causes of youth offending, with a corresponding reduction in investment in social responses to youth crime and disorder. Punishment comes first—that is where the money goes.

Was it money well spent? The Government may point to the report’s conclusion that targets for the reduction of vehicle crime, burglary and robbery were on course to be met, but there have been no figures on performance against those targets since the publication in 2004 of the Youth Justice Annual Statistics 2002-03. Those are the last statistics that are available. The targets on self-reporting offending have not been met, nor is it possible to measure current youth crime levels satisfactorily by any other means. The report concludes:

Therefore, youth offending has not been reduced by all the additional resources that have been put into it. The report’s verdict is that the target for reducing youth offending is modest—to maintain stability, rather than reduce it. However, even that target has not been met, despite the significant investment, focus and political energy expended. The report says that youth justice agencies can do little more than regulate youth crime and that they have an extremely limited impact, if any, on reducing it.

When it comes to the use of custody, targets have been set, revised, reduced and altered over the years. The fact is that no targets for reducing the number of children in custody have ever been met. More children are now imprisoned and for longer. The number of custodial sentences imposed in 2004 was 60 per cent higher than in the early 1990s, and the average custodial sentence for burglary increased from four months to 9.5 months in the 10-year period to 2004. Many more young people have been criminalised and dragged into an environment which destroys them and ruins their life chances.

One young man whom I have tried to assist was sent to custody at the age of 14 for three and a half years and, after his release, was charged with murder. He told me, “It took me a week to become the king of the remand centre that I was sent to because of my previous experience”. We are sending young persons to be influenced by people such as that. In my view, it is a particularly cruel system that drives children into custody, where they will be under the influence of people such as that, through the imposition of ASBOs for conduct which, in itself, may never have been criminal. In its report of February last, Make Me a Criminal: Preventing Youth Crime, the Institute for Public Policy Research highlighted the failure of the policy.

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The cost in human lives has been terrible: 30 children have died in custody, mostly through suicide. But does incarceration work? The report indicates that, despite claims by the YJB, which again have had to be revised and reduced, the rate of reoffending has not significantly improved. Therefore, we are looking at a distressing policy failure. The Government’s youth justice policy has failed in all aspects. It is wrong in principle to use the courts of justice for social engineering, and it has proved useless in practice. The so-called reforms of 1998 are not value for money and they have diverted funds from fundamental social issues which are the causes of crime.

Mr Rod Morgan, the former head of the YJB who resigned last year, said on 21 May, when the report was published:

He called, as I do, for a shift from the excessive use of custody and criminalisation to work with parents and work in the community to engage with young people who are falling out of mainstream services. I beg to move for Papers.

11.55 am

Lord Warner: My Lords, I suppose that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for the opportunity that this debate provides us to look back on what I would describe as the considerable achievements of the Government’s wide-ranging reforms of the youth justice system, which were initiated in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

At the outset, I declare my considerable personal involvement in those changes. I confess to having written the pre-1997 policy paper on youth justice reform, building on—the noble Lord did not mention this—the scathing 1996 Audit Commission report, Misspent Youth, on the failures of the then youth justice system. I confess to having invented the basic architecture of the current scheme, the local multi-agency youth offending teams, or YOTs, and a national Youth Justice Board, the YJB, at arm’s length from a government department. I make no apologies for that. I chaired both the steering committee that brought the new system into being in 1998 and the YJB itself for four and a half years before becoming a Health Minister. If any noble Lords want to take a pop at this basic architecture, they should probably direct that at me rather than at my noble friend the Minister.

Your Lordships will be astonished to know that my take on the history of the last 10 years is considerably different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. He was somewhat selective in the quotes that he gave us. I shall give a rather different perspective. We redesigned the youth justice system because before 1997, as the Audit Commission report clearly showed, little effective action was being taken with young people who offended. If you do not know how many

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are offending and you do not have any programmes for tackling that offending, of course you will not have criminalised anybody—you did not know about them. That is a good take on a lot of what was happening pre-1997. The public were up in arms about the lack of action by public agencies in respect of young offenders, especially in some of the poorest areas in the country. The dilatory way in which the criminal justice system dealt with persistent young offenders was a scandal, which is why the Government pledged to speed up the system. They delivered on that pledge.

The problem with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies report is that it gives no context or explanation of why the new system was established. There was no pre-new Labour golden age of youth justice and crime prevention from which resources were redirected, as the centre’s study seems to suggest. Instead, there were few effective programmes for preventing offending or reoffending, whether in the community or in custody. The system provided little effective public protection from serious and persistent young offenders and those who were caught took for ever to be processed by the criminal justice system, often committing more crimes while they were bailed and awaiting trial.

I acknowledge that the centre’s study is strong on the needs of young offenders; I totally agree with that aspect. Yet it totally fails to acknowledge the needs of public protection that the Government’s reforms tried to address. There is a balance to be struck between the needs of young offenders and the protection of the public. Our new system for the first time brought a wider range of agencies, including health and education, to bear on youth offending at the local level in a more co-ordinated way. It is pure fantasy to suggest that these changes diverted huge sums of money from other worthwhile programmes. Money may have been diverted from those budgets, but it was certainly not all being spent on worthwhile programmes dealing with young offenders. For the first time these reforms gave the system a clear statutory aim to prevent offending by children and young people. That was enshrined in the 1998 Act.

To maintain that focus, a national body, the Youth Justice Board, was set up. I pay tribute to the people who served on that board then and those who have succeeded them. They have put in a lot of effort and time and have achieved a great deal of progress, along with all the staff. Let me give some examples. National standards and good practice guidance have been put in place where none existed before. Parents were engaged for the first time in parenting programmes to try to help the parents of young offenders and young people at risk of offending. The Youth Justice Board pioneered restorative justice, which introduced reparation and making amends to victims and communities. Research programmes and better data collection were introduced. I have to say that the centre would have struggled to write its report without some of that better information, data and research that the Youth Justice Board provided and commissioned.

I acknowledge that the Youth Justice Board has set itself stretching targets. We set stretching targets and we knew at the time that we were probably not going to achieve them all, but we thought that it was worth

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having a go. The fact that we have not met them all does not mean that the services and programmes provided have not been hugely beneficial compared with what I may describe as the shambles that preceded the reforms. In any case, my understanding is that the Youth Justice Board intends to meet its target to reduce first-time entrants into the system, but perhaps my noble friend will be able to confirm or throw more light on that when he replies. For the first time—this is the most significant issue—there was real engagement of the youth justice system with the sentencers. It is not politicians but sentencers who send children into custody. The Youth Justice Board made the first real effort to engage with sentencers and to publish information court by court on the use of custody relative to community penalties.

The report makes it absolutely clear that it does not like preventive programmes being provided through the youth justice system. However, it is worth reflecting on the reason for using the Youth Justice Board and YOTs to distribute money for summer programmes and the youth inclusion and support programmes. Great consideration was given to that by departments across Whitehall. The reason why we used the YJB and the YOTs was that that was the most effective way of directing money to reach the young people most in need and most at risk.

Universal prevention programmes, to which I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is very attached, have consistently failed to reach those young people most at risk of offending. That is a brute fact of experience in this area. I know that this is controversial territory because I know many of the practitioners in social services, health and education who do not like targeting in these programmes, but I ask your Lordships to reflect that, if we are to have effective earlier intervention to prevent offending, we have to target the young people most at risk and we have to have the multi-agency data systems that support that. One should always remember before the cry of “Stigma!” goes up—and I have heard that cry in this area many times, believe you me—that those young people are already stigmatised. One of the most revealing factors in why young people end up in the criminal justice system is that they come from criminal families. If we do not target the people at risk, we are not likely to succeed in this area.

I accept that there may be better ways of bringing programmes to bear than were available in 1997 and 1998. I am sure that the new joint unit for youth justice between DCSF and the Ministry of Justice will help, as well as the YJB’s new scaled approach for targeting effort and resources. We still need to do more in substance abuse programmes, employment and training, and we need to improve our accommodation and resettlement services for young offenders, as the centre’s report rightly indicates, but we should not overlook the huge improvements that have been made in these areas by the Government’s investment policies. That is where a lot of the extra money has been spent, particularly in custody.

I will say a few words about custody. Page 48 of the report shows that custody was coming down in 2003, as it certainly was. Part of my project was to get it to come down and, when I left—I was succeeded by Rod

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Morgan—we were succeeding. The report says that the use of custody has been relatively stable. It has certainly been stable in contrast with what has happened in the adult prison population. In large part, that improvement has been achieved by the development and use of more robust community penalties, especially the intensive surveillance and support programme, which was devised by the Youth Justice Board. Although that has not reduced the use of custody as we would all have liked, it has reduced reoffending. It has certainly reduced the frequency and seriousness of the reoffending that has taken place. We must not lose our nerve in our approach to more robust community penalties. We need to progress those even further. Much of the extra money that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said was spent by the Youth Justice Board on custody was spent to improve the programmes that these young people experienced when they were in custody.

Lastly, I will say one or two words about panicky responses to surges in crime by young people. We got it wrong in the David Blunkett era over mobile phones. There was an excessive response, which led to more young people going into custody than was perhaps necessary. We run the same risk in relation to knife crime. I hope that we will have a balanced response, rather than being too moved by screaming newspaper headlines.

12.07 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for introducing the debate.

The Government are going through some difficult times. Look at some of the unpalatable news this week: the four commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have reported to the United Nations that children in Britain are criminalised, subjected to violence and discriminated against. The low age of criminal responsibility, ASBOs, public discrimination and marketing pressures are blamed for creating bleak childhoods. While crime dropped between 2002 and 2006, the number of children prosecuted rose by 26 per cent. Too many children are being criminalised and brought into the youth justice system at an increasingly young age.

On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, in an answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, said that 12,000 ASBOs were issued up to December 2006, half of which—50 per cent—were breached. About 63 per cent of those who break an ASBO will end up in a custodial sentence. On Tuesday, in an Answer to a Question from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that 55 per cent of people come into prison with a serious drug problem.

The Government must accept that, despite the plethora of criminal justice legislation, the situation remains that we have the worst prison record in Europe and that those working in this field are demoralised. So what needs to be done? The report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has performed a valuable service in drawing attention to the deficiencies of the Government's youth justice strategy and the need for a change of direction, if the youth justice system is to have a real chance of tackling the causes of youth

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crime. I accept some of the good practices identified by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, but although the Government have introduced some welcome and sensible reforms of the way we deal with young offenders, our youth justice system overall is unfit for purpose.

Before setting out the ways in which the youth justice system needs radical reform, it is right to give the Government credit for a number of important changes for the better. First, we have seen the introduction of some valuable new preventive programmes, particularly youth inclusion programmes which work intensively with the 50 juveniles in their area who are judged to be most at risk of offending. An independent evaluation of youth inclusion programmes carried out for the Youth Justice Board has found that they reduce offending or maintain non-offending for around two thirds of the young people involved in them. Some of the youth inclusion programmes run by Nacro—and I declare an interest as president of this organisation—have even more striking success rates of more than 80 per cent. Despite these encouraging developments, 10 times more of the youth justice budget is spent on custody than on preventive programmes.

Secondly, where young offenders are diverted from court and given reprimands or final warnings, a much higher proportion are now involved in diversion programmes designed to engage their energies in a more positive direction than was the case under the previous system of cautioning, and this is something we all welcome.

Thirdly, the Government have introduced the referral order which is now applied to the majority of young people who appear in court for the first time. These orders place a strong emphasis on reparation and restoration and the research shows that they work well. The rate of reoffending for young people given referral orders is lower than the rate which would have been expected if they had been given other forms of sentence.

Fourthly, although there is still a great deal wrong with the custodial regimes for young people, the additional resources which the Youth Justice Board has put into custodial establishments have undoubtedly improved these regimes compared with the position a decade ago.

Fifthly, inter-agency work with young offenders is now stronger than when the Government came into power, and I pay due credit to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his time as chairman of the Youth Justice Board. This is particularly obvious in the work of youth offending teams in which staff seconded from police, education, health and social services backgrounds work together with young offenders and young people at risk of offending. The Government have ensured that every youth offending team has an accommodation officer, and this has increased the proportion of young people in stable accommodation from 83 per cent in 2002 to 93 per cent currently.

Despite these genuine improvements, the youth justice system remains seriously unfit for purpose. No youth justice system can significantly reduce youth crime unless it gives a high priority to meeting the welfare needs of young offenders. Half the prisoners in young

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offender institutions have a history of contact with the care system compared with 2 per cent of the general population; a quarter have suffered violence in the home; many, including a third of girls in custody, have suffered sexual abuse; many more have suffered emotional abuse through parental neglect; nearly half have literacy and numeracy levels below those of an average 11 year-old, more than a quarter having levels below those of a seven year-old; and 85 per cent show signs of personality disorder, 10 per cent showing signs of psychotic disorder.

In a study called Wasted Lives in which Nacro researchers interviewed a sample of juveniles in young offender institutions, the authors drew up a list of 11 risk factors often associated with offending by young people. These included physical abuse, sexual abuse, parental neglect, unstable living conditions, misuse of alcohol or drugs, school exclusion and family conflict. The study found that, on average, the children in the sample had six of the 11 risk factors. Any system dealing with children who offend must have at its centre effective approaches for meeting the welfare needs which are almost always at the root of serious and persistent child offending. Far from having such a system, we still process young people through a watered-down version of the adult criminal justice system. This is wrong and the sooner there is a radical appraisal, the better.

As the Children's Commissioners have pointed out this week, we use the criminal justice process too much. Our age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10, which is astonishingly low by European standards. In France, the age is 13; in Germany, Austria and Italy it is 14; in the Scandinavian countries it is 15; in Spain and Portugal it is 16; in Belgium it is 18; and in eastern Europe it ranges between 14 and 16. If we are to replace our system with one geared to the needs of vulnerable children, the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 14. Below that age, child offenders should be dealt with as children in need of measures of care, and where a court needs to be involved, it should be a family court, not a criminal court.

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