Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate this debate. The report, Time for a fresh start, was produced by the Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour, which was set up by the Police Foundation in 2008 with funding from the Nuffield Foundation. This was supplemented with additional funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for a youth engagement exercise which ensured that the commission received valuable direct input from young people.
I declare non-financial interests: I am a trustee of the Police Foundation; president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders; and I have recently joined the steering group of the Young Offenders Academy project.
Over the years there has been much debate about the underlying cause of crime and a good deal of research into the type of interventions that are necessary. However, it is not universally recognised that most research tended to refute rather than confirm the hypothesis about the causes of crime and the effectiveness of punishments and treatments. One thing on which we are all clear is that the public and political mood continues to be conditioned more by hunch and gut reaction than by informed reports and research. We have seen in the past that the ability of the criminal justice system to influence crime is overstated.
I thank the Minister and I welcome the Government’s consultation paper, Breaking the Cycle, and particularly the emphasis placed on the rehabilitation process. Real progress may be achieved only as more far-reaching changes take place in society, whether of an economic and social nature or at the level of our moral values and motivations. In essence, priority must be given to crime prevention in its broadest sense and schemes for diverting as many young offenders as possible from the criminal justice system. History has proved that this is an entirely realistic appraisal of the strictly limited contribution that the courts and penal institutions can make to reduce crime.
We always underestimate that people have the capacity to change: no one is born a criminal. We cannot solve the problems of crime and reoffending by simply isolating individuals from wider society. There are clear benefits in early intervention with families caught up in the cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. The key factors that effect help are providing positive role models, developing positive relationships and getting young people back into education.
A civilised society should not tolerate anti-social behaviour, personal victimisation and alcohol and drug abuse. The Young Offenders Academy project—I am glad that the Minister has agreed to meet its representatives—is not expecting to break the embargo on capital investment. I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that the academy proposals are generally welcome so that the momentum is maintained and the project can engage with new funders and potential partners.
The Time for a fresh start report makes a positive response to the academy in its executive summary and its action on integration. The result is a cogent and detailed analysis of the causes of youth crime, our current responses to it and proposals to improve the way in which we deal with offending young people. The independent commission estimates that the country currently spends over £4 billion every year in dealing with youth crime and anti-social behaviour and that much of this money is wasted. Young offenders are often treated in ways that have little to do with preventing offending. For example, the annual cost of custody for young people ranges from £69,000 in young offender institutions to £193,000 in secure children’s homes, yet 75 per cent of those serving custodial sentences are reconvicted. At the same time, there is little investment in preventive measures and constructive community-based penalties. The commission’s proposals are based around three key principles: restoration, prevention and integration. My colleagues from this side of the Committee may speak further on these three aspects of the strategy.
On restoration, the report proposes that restorative justice becomes the standard means of resolving all but the most serious cases of youth offending, either pre-trial or as an alternative to prosecution or after conviction by a court. It proposes that restorative conferences should lead to action which includes some combination of an apology, financial reparation to victims, unpaid community work, supervision by youth offending teams, treatment for mental illness and all substance abuse, parenting support and help from children’s services. In Northern Ireland, where a system of restorative youth conferencing was introduced five years ago, this approach has led to a reduced use of custody for young people. A similar approach in this country could do a great deal to reduce the human cost of youth crime.
On prevention, the commission is keen to see the savings derived from the reduced use of courts and custody being reinvested in preventive intervention at an early stage in the lives of children with behavioural problems. Investment at this stage will be repaid many times over. By the time a child with a conduct disorder reaches the age of 27, it is estimated that the cost to public services is more than £85,000 if the disorder is not treated. The commission proposes a structured programme of investment in the most promising preventive approach.
On integration, the commission wants to see a focus on keeping young offenders in mainstream society through intervention and sanctions in the community that can help steer them away from criminal behaviour. The report accepts that some young people who are violent have to be placed in secure settings because they are a risk to other people or themselves. However, it argues, as I have frequently done in this House, that we currently overuse custody and that it should be used only as a last resort.
The commission welcomes the recent reduction in the number of children in custody and recommends that a target be set for at least halving that number. It proposes the introduction of a tighter statutory threshold for the use of custody and the abolition of short custodial sentences for young people. The reduced number of young people who would then be held in custody should be placed in small, purpose-designed units with regimes modelled on best practice in staff training and an understanding of child development.
I hope that the Government, who have so far shown themselves to be refreshingly open to constructive thinking on criminal justice, will feel able to adopt the approach proposed by this stimulating report. In his introduction to Time for a fresh start, the chair of the commission, Anthony Salz, writes:
“We need to respond effectively to the real difficulties faced by a significant number of our children today, especially those from deprived and chaotic backgrounds. We also need communities to come together with a shared commitment to understanding the needs of troubled young people and how their self-belief, skills and achievement can be encouraged to give them better chances in life. By doing that we can set about the task of creating a response to youth crime and antisocial behaviour that is intelligent, humane, flexible and, above all, optimistic”.
I echo those words and commend this incisive and constructive report to the Committee.
My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that in this sphere my admiration for him and his commitment is unlimited, all the more so because he does not speak in theoretical and academic terms. He speaks with the authority of engagement as his record spells out. I hope that I am allowed to say that I sadly wish that I was speaking on the same side as him, rather than opposite him—but if I go down that road, I will have problems with quite a number of people who at present sit opposite. Having said that, I know that it is their choice, and I must respect it even if I think that it is a profound mistake.
We should also place on record real appreciation to the commission. What is important about the commission’s work—and I am struck by it—is that it really has listened to the young. It has not just theorised about the young; it has listened to the young.
I have one nuance that I should like to discuss rather than debate with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It is a matter of emphasis. He said that we must give primacy to the prevention of crime but then went on to argue very powerfully that we must look to the long-term cost-effective strategy and not to the short-term wasteful strategy. I am not sure that I totally settle for that. What we should give primacy to is the issue of the lives of young people being a good and positive experience. Unless we really have that commitment right, we will always to some extent be sticking fingers in a dam in which there are serious cracks. A debate such as this gives us the opportunity to make the point that we must look at ourselves as a total society—not only in our social commitments and priorities, such as housing, education, social welfare, health and so on but also in our value system. If our value system is one of greed and opportunism, it undermines our credibility when in Parliament we speak about the responsibilities of the young, because they look at us and say, “Hang on a moment, who is telling who what to do?”. We have to face up to that one very honestly.
I totally endorse the argument that it is a wasteful and irresponsible use of public taxpayers’ money to follow policies that are not effective and are failing to provide lasting solutions. I cannot begin to equal the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, having been for nine years the president of the YMCA in England, I came across a lot of the work being done in the front line and had the opportunity of speaking with many young people, both those engaged in the work and those with whom they were co-operating.
One has to look at the total range—housing, homelessness, and the absence of any kind of stable family background in whatever form. I am not arguing for a particular form of family. It is sometimes regarded as not very parliamentary or macho to use the word that I am about to use, but I happen to believe that it is central to the issue. There is an absence of real love—tough love, if you like, but real love—in the upbringing of children. When I met some of the young people, I often remarked to myself that it would have been quite remarkable had they not been in trouble. That is a point that I have made before in debate, and I am sure that I shall make it again. That does not mean—and I know that my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has made this point to me before in winding up debates—that the individual responsibility of the young is removed. There are many good, very powerful and moving examples, of young people who against the most awful social odds have made a success of their lives. That is something that we should recognise. But not everyone is the same, and not everyone has the same strength. We really must recognise that we must have an holistic approach that takes the whole range of issues into account.
There is not really much more that I want to say except to say that I endorse the recommendations of the report. I will not necessarily agree with every one of them. The report falls into the trap of being preoccupied with treatment and response as distinct from the social context out of which the problems arise.
I hope that all of us, wherever we are in the House and whatever our own political convictions, will take this report seriously and let it influence our analysis and approach to debate in the future. Of course it is a financial issue. Before we have lectures from those opposite about the financial stringency within which they are operating, let me say that I realise there is financial stringency, which is essential, but this is the very time to get the policies right. You simply cannot afford to go on indulgently with policies that are not working at a time of financial stringency.
We must simply have the courage in Parliament, wherever we are, to stand up to ignorance and opportunism and to the circulation mania of the popular press who pander to this. I sometimes want to get up and say, “You are helping to generate the problem. You are not solving it with your penal, sensationalist approach. You're actually making the situation worse and are undermining the whole cause of social order”. We have to have an analytical, rational, caring approach and I believe that the noble Lord has set the tone in what he said this afternoon.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Judd, in this all-too-short debate on a subject that has been a major cause of concern for a very long time. How do we minimise the harm that the anti-social and criminal behaviour of young people causes to themselves and to the wider community? As the commission said in its excellent report, appropriately entitled Time for a Fresh Start:
“The current response to antisocial and criminal behaviour by children and young people is too often characterised by confused accountability, risk aversion and excessive bureaucracy, with limited room for individual discretion and professional judgement”.
In short, our response to anti-social and criminal behaviour by these young people is just not working.
My noble friend Lord Ramsbotham gave evidence to the independent commission and wisely said that the three things to prevent people reoffending are a proper home, a job and stable relationships. I would add a basic education to that list. Many of those who enter the treadmill of prison reoffend and do not have any of those advantages. We can but hope the Government will examine the matter more thoroughly.
Incarcerating these young offenders has not reduced their reoffending rates. Indeed, it is the view of many that prison has too often become the starting block for those who have then embarked on a criminal career. I accept what the Secretary of State for Justice says: that we lock up too many young people with no good result. But I only partly agree with him, because, sadly, we must acknowledge that there are some young criminals who, because of the nature of their crimes and the need to protect highly vulnerable members of the community must, unfortunately, be put for a time where they can no longer do harm to themselves and others.
But if prison does not work and reoffending rates remain unacceptably high, what else can we do to protect the public, give satisfaction to the victim and make it possible for the offender genuinely to change his or her ways and become an acceptable and useful member of the community?
Many years ago, the “short, sharp shock” was introduced and, like others, I thought it was the answer to those young villains. I was wrong; it did not work and neither did much else. We have had ASBOs, which the new Home Secretary has announced will be replaced by criminal behaviour orders. Let us hope that they are more successful than the often abused ASBO, but what if none of those work?
There is another way forward. Many of your Lordships will be familiar with the concept of restorative justice, as mentioned at length in the report. We have to accept that there are differing views on whether or how well that method works, much depending on one’s experience and knowledge of cases which have been dealt with by it. We have often heard that the criminal justice system favours the offender and ignores or fails to understand the hurt and fear suffered by the victims. Restorative justice is a victim-focused resolution to a crime or incident which, with the victim’s agreement and, more often, their participation, will see young people held properly to account for their criminal and anti-social acts.
In this way, restorative justice is about putting the victim’s wishes and expectations first, when the officer dealing with the incident has the discretion to offer the victim the opportunity for the crime to be dealt with through a process of mediation and conferencing whereby, in a properly supervised and appropriate case, the offender is faced by the victim, who has the opportunity to put his or her case to the miscreant and show the hurt and damage he or she has suffered. That gives victims a strong voice, which increases their satisfaction with how their crime is dealt with.
Let me give your Lordships a short example of how this is done, which came to me from the Greater Manchester Police. A boy stole a quantity of chocolate from a shop. He was seen to do so by the staff and his act was captured on close-circuit television. The film was taken to the local high school, where the offender was easily identified. Police then informed the shopkeeper of this. He did not want the youth taken to court and prosecuted for the offence but he did want some action: for the boy to be advised and to understand his wrongdoing. The restorative conferencing system was explained to the shopkeeper and he agreed to a meeting. At the conference, the shopkeeper pointed out to the boy that the sale of goods was his own livelihood—the only way he made his living, and his full-time job. The boy said that he had not realised or thought about that before and both he and his parents apologised, the parents paying the shopkeeper the money for the chocolate. The shopkeeper was satisfied with that outcome and the boy and his parents said that it would never happen again.
I am informed by the Greater Manchester Police that the whole process, from start to finish, took just 2 hours and 20 minutes. No expensive and lengthy court hearing took place, which would have meant the shopkeeper, a member of his staff, the teacher who had identified the offender from a close-circuit television picture and the police officer spending a day, or maybe more, in court. The boy, who showed contrition, was not put on the first rung of a criminal record at that point in his life, when still learning how to behave in a civilised and acceptable way. I urge the Government to examine the process of restorative justice deeply and thoroughly. Done successfully, that will not only save the country money but, most importantly, offer the best chance yet of reducing the high reoffending rates of young people.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Dholakia and agree wholeheartedly with the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Imbert, about the importance of family. It is crucial. Sadly, however, the only family that many of our young people have ever known is the gang culture. We need to understand that it is very unusual for a lot of children, strange as it seems, to have even one parent who is looking out for them. They have no choice but to live by the rules of the gang, and in my work for the Metropolitan Police Authority, I have seen some of the most horrendous things, such as children being made to hide guns because they were not currently on a police list. It is easy to get into a situation whereby you have almost no way out. I very much welcome the fact that this report sets out a clear and rational strategy for dealing with youth crime and anti-social behaviour.
The commission has built its central recommendations on reform of the three pillars, which are prevention, restoration and integration. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I shall highlight the prevention and integration elements. The key principle is that prevention is better than cure. I think that everyone agrees with that. Keeping people in prison is expensive but we must recognise that we do not live in a perfect world and there will always be a need for prisons. We need to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and re-imprisonment. A key element of rehabilitation and rehabilitating offenders is to get them into work so that they can earn a living and integrate into mainstream society. Earlier this year, I drew your Lordships’ attention to the successful reforms introduced at Feltham Young Offender Institution in west London. The prisons regime includes education, workshops and vocational training, and in 2009 a pilot scheme called Project Daedalus was launched. The project aims to break the cycle of youth reoffending through intensive support. It really is intensive support—it begins inside custody and continues for the whole time the person is in prison, and during their release in the community.
In the wing in Feltham where this pilot is taking place, the reoffending rate has dropped to just over 18 per cent compared with a national average for juvenile reoffending of 78 per cent—a substantial drop. In addition, security incidents in the unit are 90 per cent lower than in other units in Feltham. The project is such a success that it will be rolled out to other young offender institutions. There is no question that such projects cost money—a lot of money—to implement, and at a time when the Government have to make cuts in public expenditure there is a real temptation to say that we cannot afford it. That would be a serious false economy because programmes to reduce reoffending, although they cost money, represent money well spent. It is estimated that for every £1 that the Government spend, they will save at least £20 later. It is certainly a false economy not to spend the money now because it costs so much more to imprison young offenders, not to mention the costs imposed on society by crime, such as police time and court proceedings. The high rates of reoffending also impose costs that cannot easily be quantified—diminishing people’s quality of life and reducing public confidence in the police and the justice system.
Of course getting young offenders into the labour market is not the only way to reduce reoffending, nor is it the only means of rehabilitation, but it is an important way of tackling the problem. We are all subject, almost daily, to a relentless tabloid-driven campaign that focuses only on the punitive aspects of combating crime. It is natural for people who have suffered the effects of crime to have strong emotions but we must resist the temptation to reject the rational in favour of the emotional. It is the Government’s responsibility to act rationally and support programmes that are proven to reduce reoffending.
A debate a couple of days ago on the future of the Youth Justice Board suggested that there is strong cross-party support for measures that succeed in reducing youth crime. In conclusion, to what extent will the Government adopt and take forward the recommendations of the report of the independent commission, given the report’s self-evident wisdom?
My Lords, I yield to no one in my admiration for all that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has done in this field—even to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I thank him very much for giving us the chance to talk about this important report, to which I had the great pleasure of giving evidence. Whenever we see such reports, we tend to look back, and two phrases in it immediately set my mind racing backwards. The first was:
“The young people directed our attention towards areas of need for reform that we might otherwise have underplayed or neglected”.
The second was:
“Despite seeing pockets of promising practice, the Commission shares the strongly voiced concerns of Ofsted and the Prisons Inspectorate over the way that education and training provision in custody varies between institutions; and that help given to children and young people to prepare for their release is inconsistent and often inadequate”.
How often have we heard that said? I look back to a report that I published in October 1997 as Chief Inspector of Prisons, Young Prisoners, and found, first:
“I believe that if young prisoners are to be engaged by regimes, they must be convinced that the challenges and demands that are made are relevant not only to their needs, rectifying deficiencies in their previous upbringing, but offer them genuine hope of better things resulting from their training”.
Secondly, I found:
“Much inconsistency seems to be due to the fact that no one is responsible or accountable for the consistent delivery of regimes in every establishment in which young people are held”.
That latter is a gramophone record that I have been playing over and over again since 1996: namely, that until and unless you have people who are responsible and accountable for making things happen, nothing happens.
This excellent report comes 13 years after Young Prisoners, which was sent to the Secretary of State containing many of the things that were said, including, in particular, on custody, but on other things, too. My concluding recommendations to the Secretary of State were numbered, the first one being:
“In order to reduce the harmful effects of custody on children, the energies and resources of Local Authorities, community and Criminal Justice agencies should be used collaboratively and managed through shared performance indicators to … identify potential problem situations for children and provide families and schools with support and guidance to prevent children growing up as offenders … reduce offending and divert children whenever possible from custody”.
Thirteen years after those questions were posed, they have been largely answered by the way that the commission has looked at its work. In posing them in 1997, I knew perfectly well that I was by no means the first to be doing so. I believe that the Ministry of Justice now has an opportunity, which it has given itself if it will seize it, to do something about it.
In making my recommendation, I want to mention two organisations with which I am associated. One was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, which is also included in the commission’s report. It is involved with the young offender academies, which are alternatives to the way that has failed for so long. They are based on real proof of things that work. Right at the heart of what needs to be done is to provide long-term contact with a responsible adult. That is what is missing. If you keep people in a site and they come to it by day, it does not matter where they live at night—they can live in a custody centre, in a foyer for the homeless or they can go home. However, they all come back by day to the same place where the same work is done. If you localise all that—and the pilot study shows that an hour on public transport is a good radius and gives you a viable place to work—you encourage all the forces in that area to assist in the rehabilitation of their own. Chambers of commerce will be interested in training people who can fill jobs—they can train them for the future—all the activities-related projects in the area will come in and education, job training and so on can happen. This transition was strongly commended in the report because the independent commission saw the things that it wished to be done encapsulated in that kind of idea. We have been banging on about this for ages and I hope this opportunity will be seized.
The second matter I wish to speak about has nothing to do with custody. Earlier today I was with a remarkable organisation called SkillForce. It consists of members of the Armed Forces, including people who have been injured and are being medically discharged, who go into schools and tackle the worst elements of failing schools—the troublemakers, the excludees, the potential excludees, the evictees and, of course, tragically, those in receipt of school meals. It is difficult to quantify what they do but, for example, 60 per cent of the people on school meals with whom they are working go on to further education, as opposed to 9 per cent who go through the normal system. They are working very hard and turning schools round. Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, has given them grants to increase the work they are doing, particularly on a zero-exclusion pilot in schools.
I mention this because they are doing positive work in challenging the worst. I do not see why these people, who are used to giving their service to the country, should not be employed in the community and provide a service for those in danger, in custody and under probation. I am sure that ex-members of the Armed Forces would be only too happy to do it.
I add that point as an addition to the debate, but my plea to the Minister is that the report is not taken in isolation and treated separately but is included in the work being carried out on breaking the cycle. This would ensure that it is not neglected but becomes a part of what is already in progress.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on securing this debate, and all other noble Lords who have spoken in it. It is all too short but it is appropriately timed in a week when the House has overwhelmingly voted against the abolition of the Youth Justice Board.
Time for a fresh start is a remarkable report and the commission is to be congratulated on its hard work, its passion and its insistence that, although the problems of youth crime and anti-social behaviour are complex and difficult, we should never give up the struggle to find better ways of dealing with these issues. A central theme of the report is the need to expand restorative justice, an approach whose time has come, in the words of Anthony Salz, the chairman, in his introduction.
The organisation Victim Support—we should never again forget the importance of victims and the need to make them part of our criminal justice system—believes that restorative justice should be an important element of the youth justice system. At present, police forces use restorative justice for out-of-court disposals, but there is a lack of consistency nationwide in their approaches. Victim Support complains that it is not routinely used in serious crime when it could be. While the Government’s Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle, contains warm words, it seems to lack detail on how restorative justice will be delivered and implemented. No doubt the Minister will help us with that. Indeed, Victim Support is supporting a pilot called Restorative Justice, Gloucestershire, which I think all those who have spoken will want to know more about.
I do not know how widely it is known in the Grand Committee that in the first few years of the previous Government the Treasury in particular, under the then leadership of the right honourable Gordon Brown, gave a large sum of money to the Youth Justice Board to fund a large-scale inquiry into the value of restorative justice. Some years later, a seminar was held at 11 Downing Street, where a collection of very distinguished people, including judges—I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his place; he was one of those present— distinguished academics, public servants and others in this field were present to hear about extraordinary examples of restorative justice from offender and victim alike. I am told that those who were present will never forget the young offender who had taken a pistol into his school because of bullying and, in fact, nearly got shot himself by the police. They heard about the youths who trashed a village store and came face to face with the shopkeeper and the other villagers, and, above all, about the house burglar and the burgled who fought on the stairs in the burgled person’s house and afterwards became best friends. That is all great stuff but it is important not to romanticise restorative justice. It must be a hard-headed, realistic alternative to other disposals. I want to ask the Minister a question. It has come to my attention that restorative justice projects in London are to come to an end because funding is no longer to be given to them. Can the Minister confirm or deny that in his response?
In the context of this report, the proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board is an outrage. Indeed, it was described in the debate the other day as a “sacrilege”. I am sorry that neither the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, nor the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, were able to vote against the abolition, but I understand party loyalty too. However, they did not vote for it either and, if I may say so, I respect that view very much. I know that their hearts are in the right place. However, how can the Government be taken seriously when they are, I am sure, keen to find ways of improving youth justice and helping young offenders, while at the same time they are set on abolishing the Youth Justice Board—a body that has proved its value over the years, as Ministers themselves have said in debate? It is by actions, not warm words in documents, that this Government, as with all Governments, will be judged.
I end by talking about prevention, which is one of the aspects referred to frequently in the report. In a summary under the heading “Prevention”, the report says:
“It is important to involve a young person’s family in solutions to their problems. Sometimes a young person gets involved in crime partly because of problems at home, for example, they may have parents who struggle with parenting, who don’t provide good role models, who are abusive, neglectful or not around, who have mental health problems or are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Some parents need help with things such as these. Responses that involve the family can be a good way of solving some of the issues that push a young person into crime”.
I emphasise the line:
“Some parents need help with things such as these”.
However, the Government intend to remove legal aid from early advice on a whole range of issues that so affect those types of parents. Welfare benefits will be removed from scope as will debt, much of housing, employment and education.
Everyone who has spoken in this debate knows how early advice to families and individuals can save much worse from happening later on, including family breakdown, homelessness and—for the purposes of this debate—that descent into anti-social behaviour and then more serious crime. This sort of advice is to be decimated. To remove the advice that is available at the moment is both morally wrong and hugely counterproductive in helping and keeping young people out of trouble. The Government should now abandon those proposals because they are very much linked with youth crime.
My Lords, looking around the Room I see many familiar faces. There is sometimes a feeling in these debates that we are a kind of exclusive brethren who espouse some odd ideas. Yet what has come out of this is the hard-headed practicality that I think the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to. One encouragement is that today I have received a pamphlet from the CBI, Action in the Community: Reforming the Probation Service to reduce Reoffending. The covering letter quite rightly said that as taxpayers and corporate citizens, businesses have a substantial interest in seeing the rate of reoffending cut. That is the argument that reformers have put consistently. To tackle these issues is not some kind of woolly liberalism but cold, hard common sense. Our approach will do far more, even if you do not want to indulge in any of the moral or social arguments for reform, as it works on the cold, hard balance sheet for the taxpayer. If we can achieve success in what we are trying to do, there will be real savings in money spent on this area.
As regards the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I believe that spiritually we will always be on the same side and I have no problems with that. However, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, commented properly on what we are addressing. A proper home, a job, stable relationships and, as he rightly said, basic education are part of the mix that avoids offending and reoffending. As I have said on a number of occasions, you do not need to be in this job very long before you see those factors coming up time and again. It is not an endless list but actually a very short list of factors which seem to come into play. I fully appreciate that and I hope that the Government have already indicated that this report has influenced our Green Paper and will also affect our response to it.
As we have a very short time, I will not return to the debate on the Youth Justice Board. I am sure we will do so at some stage, but we had a very good debate that rehearsed many of the arguments. I will only repeat that we have no intention of dismantling the youth justice system that has been established over recent years. The youth offending teams, with their holistic approach, will be retained and our approach will put more responsibility where we think it should be—with local authorities.
I shall comment on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about SkillForce. I have had a bee in my bonnet for some time that we underuse our ex-servicemen in this area. I went to a school in Bolton a couple of years ago where I was shown round and reached the cookery class, which was run by an ex-Army cook. There were more boys than girls in the class, quite voluntarily, because the boys liked him and his rather muscular approach to cookery, and he connected with the kids. Sometimes ways of dealing with young people might be better done by somebody, for example, who has had the life experience that Army service gives rather than university or other skill training. I certainly want to take that idea back.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, rightly raised the question of custody for young people and we are clear that custody would be used for under-18s only as a last resort. We are pleased that the number of young people in custody has fallen by around 30 per cent in the past two years. We recognise that although there has been a reduction in custodial sentences for young people, the number of those remanded remains high. We have brought forward proposals in the Green Paper to address the use of custodial remand for young people. The introduction of the youth rehabilitation order at the end of last year has created a robust alternative to custody. The YRO has a menu of 18 potential requirements and two of those are high intensive alternatives to custody: intensive supervision and surveillance; and intensive fostering.
The noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Ramsbotham, both referred to young offender academies, and I know of the espousal of the cause by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The young offender academy is an innovative model. However, as the latest report from the Foyer Foundation recognises, building new custodial establishments for young people is not an option at this time of financial constraint. We recognise that effective resettlement of young people leaving the youth justice system is absolutely critical to breaking the cycle of reoffending. We want to see local services taking a greater role in the rehabilitation and resettlement of young offenders which would help them to better manage their transition back into the community and reduce their chances of reoffending. We are clear that organisations such as Foyer working with local authorities have a role to play.
Let me make it clear that preventing crime and anti-social behaviour by young people is a key priority for the Government. Our approach is to focus on tackling the risk factors that can lead to youth offending, improving the effectiveness of sentencing and strengthening community engagement. The Home Office is providing up to £20 million towards the early intervention grant which local areas can use for crime prevention and up to £18 million for youth offending teams to deliver front-line work, including knife crime prevention programmes. On 2 February, the Home Secretary announced further funding worth more than £18 million over the next 2 years to tackle youth knife, gun and gang crime. It includes £10 million for preventive and diversionary activities through the Positive Futures programme. This is a national prevention programme that targets and supports 10 to19-year olds who are on the cusp of, or who have desisted from, offending and helps them to move forward with their lives.
We want to increase the role of the community in tackling youth crime and anti-social behaviour at local level, including ensuring that young people have a strong voice and can influence neighbourhood priorities. We have published our intention to introduce a new remand order for under-18s that will simplify the system, and make local authorities, gradually and with support, responsible for the full cost of youth remand. This will reverse the perverse incentive that currently exists whereby a local authority can benefit financially when one of its young people is placed in custody. We also intend to amend the Bail Act 1976 to remove the option of remand for young people who would be unlikely to receive custodial sentences.
The Government are also in agreement with the commission that there is still not enough emphasis placed on the importance of young offenders facing the consequences of their actions and paying back to society, and especially to victims, for the harm they have caused. Using restorative justice approaches, which were referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Imbert and Lord Dholakia, and a number of other colleagues, is a crucial element of this. We fully support the principles of restorative justice in bringing together those who have a stake in a conflict collectively to resolve it, both as an alternative to the criminal justice system and as an addition to it. Restorative justice is already a key part of youth justice and we want to encourage this across the youth justice sentencing framework.
The Government are also clear that in order to make real progress in reducing reoffending and protecting the public, we must look to do more to address the factors that cause the individuals to offend—the holistic approach advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. A radical way in which we can achieve this is to free up professionals, and involve a wider range of partners from the private and voluntary sectors to take innovative approaches to dealing with offenders. I hope that the pamphlet from the CBI is an indication that we can engage the business community in this in a positive way.
Where a custodial sentence is appropriate for a young person, we must ensure that, having served it, they are resettled effectively to prevent further reoffending. Many of these vulnerable young people have no home, school or job waiting for them. Without the right support, many will reoffend or return to the gang culture referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey.
The proposals that we set out in our Green Paper seek fundamentally to change the incentive structure around resettlement. We want to ensure that local authorities take full responsibility for ensuring young people leaving custody do not return there, and incentivise work such as the resettlement consortia around the Hindley youth offenders institution in the north-west and Ashfield YOI in the south-west.
So many points have been raised with such experience from around the Room that one knows this debate could have gone on for much longer. We would have benefited from interventions from the likes of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, who was with us, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I agree that many of the solutions have been around for a long time. What is needed is the political will to deliver. Perhaps we are at one of those moments when we can change the climate of the national debate away from that tabloid-driven hysteria to which the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, referred to the kind of constructive solutions put forward in the debate today and by this report. The noble Baroness asked what happens next. What happens next is that we will respond in May to the consultation initiated by our Green Paper. But this report, this debate and much of the thinking behind it will, I hope, constructively colour the nature of that response.
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may make an apology for having failed to declare an interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, this excellent report was instigated by the Police Foundation, which is an independent think-tank dedicated to improving policing for the benefit of the public. I should have declared an interest in that I have been a member of the Police Foundation since it was formed by the late Lord Harris of Greenwich more than 20 years ago.