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Crime Prevention (Young People)

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013

Preventing young people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place is vital, and we have made considerable progress in reducing the number of first-time entrants to the system. Police and crime commissioners will provide strong local leadership in preventing and reducing crime and reoffending and addressing community safety needs. Youth offending teams also play a key role, as do cross-Government initiatives such as the troubled families initiative, the liaison and diversion programme and the ending gangs and youth violence programme.

The aforementioned “Transforming Youth Custody” Green Paper brings together the Justice Secretary and the Education Secretary, which rightly recognises that it is not just criminal justice issues that are involved. Does the Minister plan to deepen the work with the Department for Education to reach pre-primary and primary schools following the lead of, for example, Hampshire county council, which has just employed an army of speech and language therapists to work with children with identified communication needs to stop the spiral of poor behaviour starting in the first place.

Yes, and what my hon. Friend says about the importance of early intervention is entirely right. I take this opportunity to thank him and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Justice for the report that they produced last week. It was extremely welcome and we will look at it in detail and respond in due course. What he says about early intervention is important, and we will certainly work with colleagues across Government to ensure that that continues.

What part does the Minister believe that parental responsibility and a stable family unit play in preventing young people from entering the criminal justice system?

The hon. Gentleman is right. Early intervention is crucial and we want to make sure that it looks not just at criminal justice, but at family structures, education and health care. A whole range of different interests across Government must be represented in this exercise if we are truly to get to the bottom of the many problems and often chaotic background that some young people come from.

May I commend to Ministers paragraph 21 of the youth justice report that has just been referred to and the proposal that the Government might legislate as soon as possible to erase out-of-court disposals and convictions from the record of very early, minor and non-persistent offenders at the age of 18? I have constituency cases in which people’s careers have been blighted by a minor infraction for which they got a telling off, but which appears on their criminal record.

I have a good deal of sympathy for what the right hon. Gentleman says and we are considering the matter carefully for precisely the reasons he has given. We will look carefully at the issue of cautions in the round—not only how they are administered, but how long they last and in what circumstances—and report back.

Around 7% of the youth offending team’s budget has been transferred to police and crime commissioners as part of the community safety grant. As there is no increase in the PCC budget, that money has effectively disappeared. With budget cuts totalling 16% and cuts to local authorities and police, how are youth offending teams to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system, when sleight of hand deprives them of funding of hundreds of thousands of pounds?

Well, there is no sleight of hand here, and it is right to point out that police and crime commissioners can increase the precept if they think it appropriate to do so and bring more money into their budgets, but the hon. Gentleman’s point is about the importance of prevention. We should recognise that youth offending teams are already doing good work in that regard and having considerable success, bringing down the number of people who come into the criminal justice system in the first place. We hope that that progress will continue, but prevention is a key part of what youth offending teams do and it will continue to be so.