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Persistent Young Offenders

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 10 December 2008

The PYO pledge was one of the Government’s key manifesto commitments in 1997. Not only has it succeeded in demonstrating to persistent young offenders that their behaviour has consequences and those consequences follow quickly, but it has also improved the effectiveness and efficiency of criminal justice agencies in working together to tackle young offenders. In 1997 the average time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders was 142 days. We have bettered our pledge to halve the average time from arrest to sentence to 71 days and in 2007 we achieved 65 days, the lowest annual figure since the pledge was introduced in 1997.

The pledge was the first cross-criminal justice system target, and has been an excellent catalyst in bringing criminal justice agencies together to ensure that PYOs are dealt with expeditiously. Alongside the pledge, the criminal justice system is now delivering on a wide range of performance indicators and public service agreement commitments, such as increasing the proportion of serious offences brought to justice and improving public confidence in the criminal justice system.

We now want to build on the success of the pledge by concentrating on the most high-risk youth offenders. The PYO pledge focused on young, prolific offenders, but only after they had been convicted three times. We do not want to wait until a young offender receives multiple convictions before deciding that they are a priority for the attention of criminal justice agencies. We made clear in the “Youth Crime Action Plan” published earlier this year that the priority for the criminal justice system is to target those young people most at risk of offending. The success of the PYO pledge means that we will start from a strong position that should ensure that the benefits gained in terms of speed through the system and cross-agency working will not be lost.

From next year, we will be asking criminal justice agencies to focus their efforts on a single priority group of young offenders deemed to pose the highest risk. The group will be identified locally by youth offending teams who will determine who should be targeted under the area’s prolific and priority offender programme. These offenders will be prioritised through the criminal justice process, with the application of a premium service by the agencies, and in terms of sentencing interventions. This new approach to addressing youth offending behaviour will be supported by performance measures focused on reducing the reoffending of this group, and on improving their timeliness through the criminal justice system. The reoffending measure will enable us to monitor performance on reducing the rate of reoffending (by comparing rates of reoffending as measured by recorded convictions). The timeliness measure will enable monitoring, of the time through the system from arrest to conclusion (whether in the youth court or the Crown court). To supplement these performance measures, we will also use the Ministry of Justice’s time intervals survey to monitor expected improvements in timeliness of all youth cases through youth courts, as a result of the recent introduction of the criminal justice simple, speedy, summary initiative in youth courts.

This new approach means that for the first time, we will be targeting the combined efforts of the criminal justice agencies in a more holistic way on managing the offending of a common group of priority young offenders with an explicit focus on reducing their reoffending. The new approach will ensure the engagement of a wider partnership of agencies, both within and outside the criminal justice system, in working with and prioritising these young people, the continuation of interventions beyond the end of their time in the youth justice system, and a managed transition to adult services as they turn 18.

The Office for Criminal Justice Reform will monitor and report on performance both in terms of reoffending and timeliness, and will support and challenge the 42 local criminal justice boards which have responsibility for delivering the new approach. It will agree local levels of ambition with them, consistent with the performance management approach adopted across the wider “Justice for All” public service agreement 24 target as a whole.

I am therefore, today, announcing the conclusion of the Persistent Young Offenders (PYO) Pledge from the end of December 2008, and the plans we have to continue to deal with those young offenders whose behaviour causes the greatest damage and distress to law-abiding citizens.