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Letwin: A new approach is needed to youth offending

Speech to the Centre for Policy Studies

1. The neighbourly society versus the destructive society

Earlier this year in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies I observed that growing up in Britain sweeps up many children on a conveyor belt of crime without offering any exit routes. This is a conveyor belt that starts with individuals growing up in disruptive homes. They become an inconvenience and a problem in school. They start a life of petty crime and move on to serious crime. They begin their prison sentence, come out and repeat the offence. They are given a longer prison sentence and they become hardened criminals. Institutionalisation is then the only option left.

This was described recently by the Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, when he said: "The next generation of children could be growing up in an environment where crime is seen as unexceptional in some areas of large cities - just a part of everyday life……….the bullied become bullies, the beaten become aggressors, and cruelty becomes the norm. Victims become robbers and so the cycle of crime escalates."

This scenario is allowed to develop because of the absence of the neighbourly society. Children grow up in neighbourhoods where the stability and support provided by networks of friendships, families, schools, neighbourly associations and other sources of identity and self worth is non- existent.

The dissolution of these networks of support indicates that the role of the police, as custodians of the neighbourhood - as guarantors of authority and order - is ever more important. Their retreat from the neighbourhood frontline, about which I spoke in March, means that yet another layer is stripped away from the neighbourly society as troubled youngsters have no barriers to the conveyer belt to crime.

In the face of crime and social disorder, a community can only retreat, ceding more ground to the criminal and exposing young people to values wholly opposed to those of the neighbourly society.

The paradox is that, where the neighbourly society has disappeared, young people still desperately crave the things that sustain it - security, stability and freedom from fear.

Their response to the absence of the institutions that sustain the neighbourly society is to establish their own institutions that maintain the destructive society. Their answer to an absence of family, neighbourhood and community networks is to create their own network of support - The Criminal Gang.

For, what does The Criminal Gang provide but a substitute family? What does The Criminal Gang offer, but a route away from malnourishment and impoverishment? What does The Criminal Gang ensure, but a feeling of power and security? What does The Criminal Gang bring, but a sense of purpose and excitement? What does The Criminal Gang guarantee, but a right to belong?

In short, The Criminal Gang fulfils that most basic human desire of association and belonging. But, just as with the children in the 'Lord of the Flies', the substitution of 'Gang rules' for moral rules leads to chaos and destruction. The Criminal Gang sweeps up the weaker members of the neighbourhood, intimidates those outside the gang and embarks on an orgy of vandalism, pillaging and virtually unrestrained violence.

Of course not all gangs are bad - and some will be worse than others. Some gangs will constitute just a few children stealing from sweetshops. But, at their worst, gangs led by hardened thugs, with no consciousness of right or wrong, have a power to destroy any semblance left of community.

Their efforts can lead to abuse, rape or murder. The tragic cases of Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor bear witness to the destructive power of The Gang and illuminate gang terror in its purest form.

The extent to which young offenders and gangs are nurturing the destructive society cannot and should not be underestimated.

Young offenders are now responsible for about a third of all criminal convictions. But the recent Youth Justice Board survey showed that the number of criminal offences committed by young people is probably far higher than the conviction rates suggest. In that survey, 26 per cent of school pupils claim to have participated in some form of crime in the last year - and this alarming statistic is borne out by other surveys.

Nor does the crisis of youth crime consist just of youths committing crimes. It consists also of young criminals growing up into adult criminals. Until we can find ways of reducing the level of youth crime, we will not succeed in reducing the supply of hardened adult criminals.

2. Prevention in the place of cure?

There is little doubt that we could make - and that we must make - much greater and more effective efforts to tackle youth crime by means of crime prevention. As one group of criminologists recently put it to me, we need to raise the hurdles rather than merely attending to the hurdlers.

One great hurdle that can and should be erected against the young criminal is police presence. If we can get the police visibly back onto the streets, with effective neighbourhood policing, well supported by community watchfulness, and move towards the 2 minute response times, that have worked so well in New York, with the locality controlled by the police rather than by the gangs, then the hurdles that have to be jumped by young people contemplating a crime will be raised substantially.

A second great hurdle is "designed-in" crime prevention. The evidence from a number of studies, that particular residences or businesses are repeatedly and disproportionately the victims of burglary, suggests that the proper employment of anti-theft designs and anti-crime technology could make these attractive locations less attractive and thereby raise the hurdle-rate for youth crime. The statistics, here, are echoed in the kind of comments I frequently hear from those - often shopkeepers - who have been victims of repeated crime: 'the youths who hang around were put off once we put in anti theft devices and put up the CCTV'. No doubt also, the design of items such as mobile phones can contribute significantly to making them more difficult to use when stolen - as we hope the new moves to block GSM handsets and the new "designed-in" blocking of GSM phones will do.

But I do not believe that we can afford to put all our faith in hurdles.

We must also attend to the young hurdlers. I persist in believing that our society must be capable of addressing - and in a high proportion of cases, altering - the character of young criminals and potential young criminals.

Some people believe that it is left-wing nonsense to suppose that the behaviour of young criminals or potential young criminals can be addressed or their character altered.

But I am too acutely conscious of the subtle fabric of affection, reputation and emulation that tenuously and imperfectly sustains the moral characters of those of us who are generally non-violent and generally law-abiding, to believe that there is so vast a gulf as some people imagine between "them" and "us".

I take young criminals to be 'us', but gone wrong. I cannot see that there is much hope for society, or much hope for humanity, if we give up on the task of preventing them from going wrong. Crime prevention: yes - more of it; but also the prevention - as far as we are able - of criminality itself.

3. The Youth Justice System does not work

At present, the youth justice system does very little to sustain my optimism. Indeed it does much to sustain the deepest pessimism.

The youth justice system in Britain today serves one purpose. It protects the public against some of the most persistent and serious Young Offenders for the periods during which those young criminals are locked up. Such protection of the public is, of course, enormously important.

But alas, the protection of the public only occurs while the young people in question are in prison - and, all too frequently, a brief spell in a youth offender institution is followed almost immediately by re-offending.

The re-offending rates in Young Offenders Institutions are roughly 75%. This means that, within two years of emerging from such an institution, 75% of the leavers will have been reconvicted of a crime. When one allows for the very low clear-up rates of crime which are under 10% at present, the presumption must be that an astonishingly high proportion - perhaps close to 100% - of the young people concerned - actually go on committing crimes after being in a YOI.

So the youth justice system isn't working as rehabilitation.

But if a quarter of the pupils in our schools committed a crime last year - as the surveys suggest - then the youth justice system isn't working as a deterrent either.

I submit to you that a youth justice system which offers some short-term protection to the public but neither deters nor rehabilitates is, to a very considerable extent, a failure.

4. The system of local authority 'care' does not work

But the youth justice system is not the only thing which is failing.

The system of local authority care is also a flop.

Our care system is at the very least, failing to undo the moral damage already done to many of the children who find their way into it.

Although many many children in care are very often horribly damaged, it is a tribute to those working in the care homes that many do emerge against the odds and live fulfilled lives. But, alas it is often not so. An appalling number of children in care become young people in prison.

Figures from the National Prison Survey suggest that 38% of prisoners under the age of 21 have been in local authority care.

Recently, I was presented with a published book of poems, written by Young Offenders.

One poem entitled "This Angry Boy" particularly struck me.

Let me read it to you:

"At the age of ten he was classed as a problem child and that he needed special attention and so they packed him off to an approved Boarding School

He was there for three years getting into fights here and there this angry boy.

There was a lot of frustration but no one looked into the reason why he was angry and or frustrated.

So he got kicked out of the Boarding school for assaulting another boy and was charged with GBH at the age of thirteen.

That was the first of many offences. Then for the next year he was sent from Children's home to Children's home to Children's home never having a place to settle for more than a month.

Then at the age of fourteen he got into crimes ranging from car theft to armed robbery and he also had a reputation to defend in his area which also caused problems without him getting into fights. He had a criminal record as long as his arm. But why did he do these crimes and where was he going to go?"

What better critique could there be of our youth justice system in operation?

Or of the failure of our system of care?

5. We fail from the age of four

There is, however, a yet deeper failure. We are failing to tackle this problem at its roots.

Some months ago, I was sent a book entitled Ghosts from the Nursery .

Ghosts from the Nursery opens with the true story in the US of a 16-year-old boy, Jeffery, who was charged with the murder of an 84-year-old man in 1993 and sentenced to death. The authors observe that:

"Jeffrey's story is one told hundreds of times daily in courtrooms across the nation. It is a story told by events, psychiatric reports, interviews with victims, witnesses, friends, and family….. But the beginning of stories like Jeffrey's goes untold. One chapter is nearly always missing--the first chapter, encompassing gestation, birth, and infancy. And because it goes unseen and unacknowledged, it repeats itself over and over at a rate now growing in geometric proportions"

Sad and shocking though this story is, it is not so surprising when we learn that Jeffrey himself was the product of a chaotic and abused home background. His mother was a drug and alcohol addict. As a very young child, he was beaten, abused and neglected.

The authors go on to examine the effect on children of abuse, neglect, and lack of warmth from their mother and father, their inability to relate to the world around them and their likelihood of some becoming tomorrow's offenders.

Academic research on both sides of the Atlantic is growing to support the evidence that the seeds of future offending are sown in infancy.

Although the UK crime statistics do not provide much evidence of the background of offenders, the results of some long-term studies are beginning to be evaluated.

In the UK, for example, Dr. Stephen Scott , of the Department of Child Psychiatry at King's College London, has shown that by the age of 5, 15% of children display early signs of behavioural problems and are rejected by their parents. Nearly half of these will go on to have substantial criminal records. Looking back, of those who become serious repeat offenders, over 90% showed severe anti-social behaviour in childhood.

In the last 40 years, the breakdown of family structures in the UK is both striking and worrying. A quarter of all children in the UK are being brought up with one parent absent - usually the father - easily outnumbering other EU countries. We also have by far the highest rate of teenage mothers in Europe. Whilst many lone parents do a heroic job against the odds, the evidence suggests that young people are less likely to be tempted onto the conveyer belt to crime if the family unit is at full strength.

The evidence also shows that the single most important ingredient in a young child's life is the quality of his or her parenting. Harsh, physically abusive, neglectful and chaotic parenting, devoid of love, makes for anti-social, disruptive, dysfunctional children. The building blocks of a normal childhood are missing. The ladder is kicked from under the children's feet before they learn to walk.

On a visit to a Parenting Centre in Hereford recently, I was told of a baby, born to a heroin addict, who was ante-natally addicted. What sort of start in life is that? When a child is traumatised by what he sees and hears in the home, how can he develop normal relationships outside? When there are no boundaries in his life, how can be expected to respect the rights of others?

But what, apart from taking children into care, are we doing to prevent the first steps onto the conveyer belt to crime? When a child first arrives at school, clearly displaying the "early signs of behavioural problems", what coherent strategies do we have for addressing these problems?

The answer at present, is next to none. If the child is physically at risk, action - alas, often involving removal to local authority care - will be taken. But if the problem is moral and spiritual, if the child is 'merely' an outsider, even to the point where the teachers notice and worry, there is no sustained, coherent, readily available arrangement for effective intervention. We just wait until the problem becomes a crisis of criminality - and then leave it to the care system and the criminal justice system to fail to address the crisis.

6. The way forward: two ambitions

It is not enough for a politician - even for a politician in Opposition - to preach about our current failures. Constructive politics consists not only in identifying the current problems but also in putting forward solutions.

Accordingly, since my speech on the neighbourly society, we have been working, not only to locate the areas of failure but also to identify the broad lines of possible solutions. We are not yet sufficiently advanced in that work to offer detailed policy prescriptions. But I want to sketch today, two major ambitions which - if fulfilled through effective detailed policy, and if set alongside a reassertion of effective neighbourhood policing and other effective crime prevention and criminal justice reforms - could, I believe, make a significant contribution to the reduction of youth crime, and hence to the reduction of crime in general.

The first of these ambitions is the establishment of effective programmes to lead the 'problem child' away from the conveyer belt to crime, from the age of 4 or 5 onwards.

The second of my ambitions is the establishment of a new approach to persistent youth offenders - so that those whom the programmes within the first ambition have failed to rescue are nevertheless effectively deterred and rehabilitated at a later stage.

7. Effective programmes to lead children away from the conveyer belt

The first of these ambitions - the establishment of effective programmes to lead children away from the conveyer belt to crime - is not new.

In 1852, a Metropolitan Police Magistrate wrote: "the characters of children brought up in London are so precociously developed that I should find it difficult to mention an age at which they should not be treated as criminals".

The Nineteenth Century response to ever rising juvenile delinquency - as portrayed by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist was to set about trying to nurture neighbourly institutions that would both help parents to bring up the children and, to the extent that the parental role was not fulfilled by the parents themselves, to provide a partial replacement.

Great philanthropists like Lord Shaftesbury, Mary Carpenter and Thomas Barnardo saw it as their duty to take action.

Aware of the shortfall in educational institutions for the poor, Mary Carpenter established a number of schools, including a reformatory school in Bristol in 1854. In her schools, teachers were responsible for becoming acquainted with the child's home and family surroundings.

Mary Carpenter believed that support for children should "'be left in the hands of volunteers, who were the 'the best means of supplying to the child the parental relation".

The same desire to remove youngsters from the conveyer belt to crime motivated the Boys' Brigade and the Scouts as well as the Sunday School movement which, by 1880, had some 6 million Sunday scholars.

Nor should we be so insular as to suppose that the problem of youth criminality - or the need for an effort to reduce it by intervening very early and very persistently - are restricted to the UK.

The Head Start programme in the US is an example of community based, charitable organisations that have developed innovative programmes to meet local needs, often using volunteers.

The idea behind Head Start is to tackle rising juvenile crime, child abuse, neglect and poor education results by intervening with children under 5, pregnant mothers and their families. Since 1965, Head Start has served over 15.3 million children and their families and it plays a major role in focusing attention on the importance of early childhood development. It draws together the major components affecting a child's development under one roof as part of a fully integrated service: education, health, parental involvement and social services.

Head Start is not a perfect model. It is noticeable that President Bush - in a series of early childhood initiatives - has asked for reform. He is intent on basing the allocation of federal subsidies upon the evaluation of results.

But the Head Start principle is the right one - it uses both the state and the voluntary sector to try and prevent children in their early years from embarking on the conveyer belt to crime.

We are beginning to see a movement in this direction here, with primary schools playing a leading role in providing breakfast clubs, after school clubs, holiday clubs and counselling courses for parents. Schools are in touch with families in other ways through the educational welfare officers, health visitors and social workers - and the Sure Start project is in its early stages. These schools are only picking up the pieces - they have an enormous task.

But many different agencies are involved, they are not fully co-ordinated, they are danger of becoming too bureaucratic and large numbers of children can, and do, fall through the net.

Above all, we have not yet found in the UK - perhaps because we have become so centralised and so bureaucratic in our attitudes and practices - a suitable means of doing what Head Start does: namely, to mobilise and co-ordinate the resources of the voluntary sector.

I agree with Rob Allen, the Director of Research at NACRO when he says:

"There is a need for community based supervision to utilise as wide a range of resources as possible in the task of promoting responsibility…schools, youth clubs, churches, voluntary organisations and employers need to accept a greater measure of responsibility for the life of the community as a whole and for offering opportunities to reintegrate young people excluded from it…"

But, in the UK today, we do not do it. The state all too often either ignores the problem or takes the child into 'care' - and all too infrequently sees itself as the facilitator of voluntary, neighbourhood-based efforts to provide or reinforce the stability and moral education that homes have been unable, or partially unable to provide.

If we knew how to use the vast powers and riches of the state to release these voluntary, neighbourhood energies without bureaucratising them in the process, we should have the beginnings of an answer to the crisis of the conveyer belt. We know this because we know that despite the present lack of state facilitation there are - around and about - remarkable examples of voluntary neighbourhood activity.

One of the most remarkable is a charity in Camberwell, Kids Company.

Kids Company holds out a hand to children who are drowning under a system, that has failed them at every turn.

Many of the children at Kids Company have witnessed all manner of criminal behaviour which in some cases defies the imagination. The case of one particular child provides an illuminating example. This child's mother and partner are both drug addicts who in their preoccupation to feed their habit forget her most basic needs and sink to depressing levels of depravity. There is no food in the house, no sheets on the bed; the furniture has long since been smashed up. She has witnessed many frightening scenes due to the fact that drug dealers frequent her home.

Nine out of ten of the children have no father; many rarely see food in the place they call home. Many will have suffered abuse and been exposed to a life of crime since early childhood. Over the years, usually by about the age of 11, they will have learnt to absent themselves emotionally from feelings.

These children are already in a prison of their own making and it requires intensive work to bring them to return to feelings. Because they do not have a full capacity for sympathy or remorse and have little regard for their own future, they are not much concerned about the welfare of others, and not much worried by the prospect of compromising their freedom. Deterrence does not work for them because they do not feel they have anything to lose.

Kids Company provides three hot cooked meals a day, incentive points which can be exchanged for clothes, education, psychiatric counselling, help with housing, drugs and benefits. It is in the business of picking up the pieces of discarded lives and attempting to put them back together.

Kids Company is a local solution to a local problem meeting a specific need. It has established itself spontaneously and its essence is its autonomy which would be lost if we ever tried to make it fit a bureaucratic straitjacket.

We need to invoke the spirit of the great Victorian social reformers, but we need to translate the working of that spirit into a modern idiom, the idiom of the Head Start programme and the idiom of the Kids Company. We need through concerted and coordinated action to find the means of harnessing the resources of the public sector and of the voluntary sector, to intervene early, to provide support and reinforcement for parents and their children, so that the 'outsider child', does not become the 'problem child', the 'impossible child' and the 'young offender'.

8. A new approach to dealing with young offenders

We have, however, to accept that - however much we improve upon our current, lamentable approach to 'problem children' - there will still be failures. There will still be some, I hope, ultimately very few, who slip through the net and become serious and persistent young offenders.

At present, our principal response to such offenders is to incarcerate them in Young Offenders Institutions. I have spoken today about the statistics which indicate that the system of YOIs in the UK is failing lamentably, both as a deterrent and as a system of rehabilitation.

Some other places do better.

You will recall that, for the UK's Youth Offending Institutes, the latest figures show that 75% of young offenders reoffend within two years of release - and those figures are only for those juveniles who are caught.

75%. Now let me contrast that figure for a moment with a Young Offenders Reformatory in Ankara, Turkey - a country not normally associated with a Hampstead liberals or a liberal penal policy!

At this Reformatory, just 3% of those released had been reconvicted of an offence within four years. Yet the inmates of this Reformatory were convicted for severe crimes.

The Governor of the Reformatory states:

"This place is more like a school than a prison because we believe this project will be one that will help the children who have committed crimes return to the community as normal citizens".

This Reformatory succeeds because it is embedded in the local community. It is the very opposite of a child jail. The young people leave the prison campus every day to work in local businesses or study in local schools. The Reformatory is partly staffed by local volunteers. Although there is tremendous opportunity to escape, very few children do.


Partly because the conditions of the Reformatory are pleasant and provide replacements for all the things that were notably absent throughout the young person's upbringing: positive support, education and sustenance.

However, there is one important threat that hangs over these juvenile offenders: they know that they will be sent to a harsh closed prison - most likely to the end of their sentence - if they run away. They know what this closed prison is like due to the fact that they were detained there before trial proceedings.

Let me give you another example in Texas - also not an area associated with lenient punishment.

Over 70% of Juvenile offenders who pass through the Harlingen Camp in Texas do not reoffend (roughly the inverse of the UK figure). Although the Camp is highly disciplined, the offenders are given specialised mentoring and education programmes.

They are constantly re-modifying their programs to create the highest success rate. For example, most juvenile institutions have at least 200 beds, whereas this camp only has 32. This allows for greater personal contact, or as Mr. Coan, the Prison Captain said, "A smaller unit leads to greater individual counselling and better end results".

The camp is not completely "military". It emphasizes the fact that it is an educational institution, where the children can learn moral and physical courage.

6 months is the minimum time of stay for the average child; the longest stay was 13 months. Children can be kept longer than 6 months if there are problems finding proper placement for them upon departure (if for example the family is not involved or willing to help).

The children and counsellors meet with the family every two months to check on progress and try to streamline the network of support from the camp to the individual homes. 26 children have applied for the High School equivalency exam; 20 have passed, thus earning their High School Diploma from the camp. The camp also works to help the young people go to college with a 2-year program they are connected with once the kids leave the camp.

These examples of Ankara and Texas have a lot to teach us - because the contrast with our own arrangements is so great. This is of not, of course, to deny that there are examples of good practice within some UK institutions.

Thorn Cross YOI in Warrington has proved that if they can hold on to a young offender for long enough they can make a difference to the life of that young person.

Thorn Cross operates a High Intensive Training programme known as HIT which recent research shows has a positive impact on re-offending rates.

Cognitive-behavioural programmes, education, skills training relevant to the person and the location, preparation for a useful life, strict routine, detox programmes, mentoring, career planning and through-care on the outside have helped to reduce re-offending.

A few weeks ago I visited the Orchard Lodge Secure Training Centre in South London. The staff are dedicated and do everything they can to help the children who are placed there. In many cases they do an excellent job and I witnessed some youngsters taking science GSCEs.

But there are crucial differences even between these good UK examples and the really successful cases in Ankara and Turkey.

What both the Boot Camp and the Ankara Reformatory have in common is what happens to juveniles when they leave.

They offer a really serious rehabilitation and settlement service. The staff frequently calls on and check on the children and their families. They help them with their educational qualifications and the young people are invited back into the institutions on a day-by-day basis for further support.

What a contrast to Britain. I have lost count of how many projects looking after young people, how many Secure Training Centres, and how many Young Offenders Institutions do not have the ability to offer a decent aftercare service.

Although Thorn Cross - unusually - does make efforts (heroic under the circumstances) to support the boys after resettlement, they struggle in a policy environment that does not recognise what a pivotal time the weeks and months after a young person is released can be.

They are often unable to find out what happens to former residents, and they have strictly limited capability for any kind of rehabilitation support. In the case of most Youth Offending Institutions and Secure Accommodation Centres, there is no serious after-care at all.

Unfortunately once young people leave Orchard Lodge, for example, there is nothing. The youngsters go back into their neighbourhoods whence they came. With no positive networks of support, before long, many are tempted back into the gangs and rejoin the destructive society.

The staff of Orchard Lodge are as frustrated by the system as I am. They told me that they pushed for as many children as possible to go to College, as that would be the one network of support that might keep them off the conveyer belt to crime.

Recently a member of my team met a young man who had been in and out of Juvenile Units and YOI's since the age of fifteen. Each time he was convicted he was given a short-term sentence from two to five months.

He behaved well in prison, he welcomed the opportunity to clean up and come down from whichever drugs he had been taking at the time he was convicted. The problem was he was never anywhere for long enough for any good to be done.

When his sentence was up he was back on the outside, back to the estate he had come from, exposed to the pressures and the gangs and the vulnerable lifestyle that had contributed to his past pattern of offending.

Whilst he was in prison he had a routine, three cooked meals a day, his life took on an order and although to you and I that order would be abhorrent, to him, someone who had since a child had lived a life in chaos, it was comforting.

Health care was on tap, he successfully went through detox, and the prison service, which possibly provides the most comprehensive drugs support programme in the UK, successfully built him up with nutrition and exercise.

However the education he received was minimal, he was given no skills training for a life on the outside, he had received little in the way of mentoring or counselling and nothing which happened on the inside prepared him for a life on the outside. In fact everything on the inside was the opposite of what it would be on the outside. His meals were cooked, his clothes washed, others took the majority of decisions, he didn't really need to think about anything.

Someone who came into prison unable to completely think about the consequences of his actions or his future had all decision-making responsibility removed for the time he was inside.

The irony was that he wanted a better life for himself. In his words he wanted " a nice house and a job that paid good money". He had aspirations, which to someone from his background presented a huge leap.

By the end of his sentence, he was ready to take a step towards a better life, He was off drugs, had pulled himself together. But, just when he was best placed to make the transition from a life of social exclusion and persistent offending, the system throws him out into the community and virtually abandons him.

The result being that within weeks he relapsed and was back through the revolving doors for another useless short-term spell at the expense of the taxpayer. This is the human reality behind the dismal statistics: the principal reason why the Youth Justice System fails is that it offers only sporadic episodes of improvement (after a long series of cautions and the like), without any coherent, consistent long-term rehabilitative approach.

How can we improve upon this dismal performance and begin to achieve the kind of results that are being achieved in Ankara and Texas?

The first imperative is to recognise that short, sporadic sentences with nothing in between will do very little, if anything, to rehabilitate persistent and serious offenders. There is at least some evidence to suggest that a long sentence, coupled with the reforms I am proposing, would lead to a better chance of successful rehabilitation and potentially reduce the total amount of time that young offenders spend inside.

The second imperative is to recognise that a 'sentence' for such a young offender need not be, and in most cases almost certainly should not be, uniform or composed solely of straightforward incarceration: what is needed is for the serious and persistent young offender to be placed in the custodianship of some agency that can use a combination of support and discipline, sticks and carrots, gradually to wean that young person off crime and into a different style of life.

In the case of Ankara and Texas, the custodial institutions themselves play these roles. For reasons which have to do with the history of our own institutions, I doubt whether that is a model which could generally be applied here. I believe that we need to build, instead on the Youth Offending Teams - whose origins lie in the work done by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary.

The Youth Offending Teams have many natural advantages as prospective custodians of persistent offenders under longer term rehabilitative 'sentences'. They are locally based. They are devoted to dealing with specific problems of individual, persistent offenders rather than a wide range of other issues. They contain representatives of many of the organisations that need to be involved, from the police to the social services. And they have already showed signs of imagination - with, for example restorative justice programmes and ISSP supervision and mentoring programmes.

But the Youth Offending teams are a foundation, rather than the whole answer.

If we are to build effectively on that foundation and begin to emulate the low re-offending rates achieved in Ankara and Texas, we will need to look again not only at sentencing and the powers of custodianship (i.e. the use of sticks and carrots) for long term youth rehabilitative sentences, but also at the structures of the Youth Offending Institutions and secure accommodation, the availability of longer term education and training, psychological help, access to safe housing and much else besides.

9. Fulfilling the ambitions: tough but constructive

These then, are our ambitions - a truly effective programme, mobilising the public and voluntary agencies to lead 'problem children' away from the conveyer belt to crime, alongside a new approach to serious persistent youth offenders involving longer term rehabilitative sentences with a 'seamless' support service focused on the reform of character.

To make a reality of these ambitions, we will need much further policy work. That work is now in train.

That work will need to develop all parts of the five point plan for fighting crime in Britain that I authorised at the beginning of the year.

It will need to deliver not only effective action to combat youth crime, by early years intervention and longer term rehabilitative sentences for persistent offenders, but also effective means of putting police back on the streets and turning them into the custodians of our neighbourhoods. It will need to identify effective means of rehabilitating our creaking criminal justice system - so that trials are conducted efficiently and effectively.

And - as importantly as any of this - it will need to provide real methods of conducting an effective campaign against drug dependency in this country - without which no fight on crime stands any material chance of succeeding.

Beyond and behind all of this we shall require a much broader programme of decentralisation, to create a remoralised and sustainable welfare society in which neighbours and parents alike take responsibility, in which family structures are supportive rather than torn apart, in which local communities and individuals feel they have power over their own destiny.

We do not have to choose between soft action and hard action.

That is a stale argument.

We can instead, take action that is tough but constructive, action that is based on a real acknowledgement of the crisis and a real belief in individual moral responsibility, but action that derives at the same time from optimism about the capacity of our society to reform moral character and to lead young people away from crime, to the huge benefit of us all, if only we go about it in the right way.

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