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Young Offenders

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010

10. What recent representations he has received on his Department’s policies to reduce the rate at which young people enter the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. (9422)

I am not aware of any specific recent representations made on this topic. The Government want to ensure that young people do not enter the criminal justice system unless it is necessary. Our policies will be considered in the context of our comprehensive assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the best way of keeping young people out of a life of crime is to intervene early in their lives, so that they have the social and emotional capability to resist criminality? Will he commend the current project in Peterborough, where an early intervention bond has been created by Social Finance Ltd and St Giles Trust to ensure that offenders do not reoffend and that they leave the criminal justice system at the earliest possible moment? Is he willing to extend that experiment, which was introduced by the last Government, and to consider its possible extension throughout the criminal justice system?

I repeat the support that I have given before to the hon. Gentleman’s campaign for early intervention. I entirely agree with what he says.

We are certainly very interested in the project that is about to get under way in Peterborough. It will have to be evaluated in due course, but my ministerial team will be following closely this system of raising capital finance by means of a social bond, and then targeting the need to reduce the rate of reoffending in a particular group. Reducing reoffending will be a key part of our policy, and this is an important way of trying out one method of tackling it. I hope that it succeeds.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that some of those young offenders are in the criminal justice system owing to their lack of a strong, solid education? What plans has he to try to ensure that something is done about that?

The present Government have an extremely important programme of education reform. Anything that can be done to raise standards of education and training in this country will, I believe, have an indirect impact on the number of people who drop out of society in some way and are tempted to start offending.

I agree that we need to look across the broad range of social policy, considering relationships between crime and housing problems, employment problems and education and training problems, if we are to achieve the improvement in our social fabric which, eventually, will continue to reduce criminality. Meanwhile, some young people are serious offenders. We do need a secure estate, and we do need to prosecute those from whom the public must be protected. I think that we would all welcome any measure that will successfully reduce the number of young people who are needlessly criminalised when they could be diverted into a more sensible way of handling their problems.

Is the Justice Secretary aware that the rate of reoffending and entry into the youth justice system by young people fell by 10% during the last years of the Labour Government? That fall was due not least to the fact that we invested heavily in the three-year youth crime action plan, the third year of which ends this year, 2010-11. It involves issues such as prevention, and includes the Peterborough project that the Justice Secretary has just endorsed. Will he give an indication of what plans he has to continue the youth crime action plan after this year?

I agree that there has been a reduction in the number of people entering the criminal justice system. Notwithstanding my usual caveats about all crime statistics, which can be used by Members on either side of the House to prove practically anything over whatever period they choose, I think that one thing on which we agree is the need to divert from needless criminality young people who can properly, in the public interest, be dealt with in some other way.

The youth crime action plan, and a number of other interesting experiments involving diversion out of the court system in which the last Government were engaged, will certainly be investigated and followed up by the new Government. We are not remotely partisan about the issue. We wish to look further for more outside experience of how best to tackle reoffending and the underlying problems of youth delinquency, in order to take more young people out of court and out of criminality.