Home Office fails to meet targets on young offenders

The Home Office has admitted it has failed to hit its target for cutting re-offending rates for 10- to 17-year-olds.

New figures released this week reveal that, in 2004, 41.3% of young people involved in the criminal justice system went on to re-offend within a year. Although this represents a 3.8% fall in young offenders’ re-offending rates since 1997, this is well short of the Home Office’s 5% reduction target for this period.

In particular, the statistics show a marked increase in the numbers of 10- to 17-year-olds committing a further crime after being arrested for violent behaviour, public order offences and criminal damage. Nearly 23,000 of those arrested for such charges went on to re-offend in 2004, compared with just over 17,300 in 2000.

Despite this, Youth Justice Board chair Rod Morgan welcomed the overall figures, describing them as a step in the right direction.

“The figures means that around 1,100 fewer young people committed further offences, equivalent to more than 3,000 fewer crimes and victims,” he said.

However, the Howard League for Penal Reform, which last month criticised the government for largely ignoring the problem of high re-offending rates among young men, called the new figures for young people given custodial sentences into question.

“I think the Home Office has underplayed the rate in those taken into custody,” said director Frances Crook. “It always used to be around 90%, but appears to have fallen to around 78%.”

Advocating wider use of community sentences, Crook said young people given these re-offended less frequently than those given custodial sentences and often for less serious offences.

Crook added that the current system of judging police forces’ performance on arrests rather than restorative outcomes was to blame for the increase.

“The police have been given perverse incentives to arrest children and young people,” she said. “They have strict quotas to meet, and children are a soft target.”

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