The law of unintended consequences insists that even the best of intentions will have unwanted results. Nowhere is this more apparent than in youth justice, where a huge increase in spending over the past 10 years has done nothing to reduce youth crime.
This is the damning verdict of a report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, which has carried out a detailed audit of the ambitious youth justice reforms introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Some targets have been hit, including more police, overall less crime, and fewer delays between arrest and sentencing.
But crime figures were already drifting downwards when Labour came to power and have more to do with growing economic prosperity than with earmarked spending.
Youth offending teams have done good work on early intervention and prevention, but greater investment has been accompanied by a public and political clamour to get tough on a socially and economically deprived group of “problem” children.
More children and young people have been caught in the youth justice net, more are locked up and absurdly high reoffending rates refuse to bow to any of the many targets so far set. Spending has been skewed towards incarceration rather than meeting the social and educational needs of offenders, or those at risk of offending. If the emphasis were reversed, the results would be considerably better.
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