'Depressing' youth crime figures

THE number of young people falling foul of the criminal justice system in Essex has risen by 65% in five years.

Elliot Furniss

THE number of young people falling foul of the criminal justice system in Essex has risen by 65% in five years.

Figures released by the Government revealed that the number of 10 to 17 year-olds who have entered the criminal justice system in Essex had gone up from 1,726 in 2002/3 to 2,844 in 2007/8.

Simon Burns, MP for West Chelmsford, who received the figures after a Parliamentary question, said the rise was “deeply depressing”.

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He said: “There is something deeply depressing that such young people are falling foul of the criminal justice system but sadly, this is a reflection of the increase in complaints that I get from constituents about the behaviour of a minority of young people who can cause so much misery and distress to others.”

The worrying figures were backed up by Steve Wood, who manages the Open Road drug and alcohol treatment centre in Colchester and regularly visits local schools to talk about issues related to his work.

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Although the service supports those aged 18 and over, Mr Wood said it was clear from talking to people referred to the centre that, for many, their problems started at a very early age and often led them into trouble with the police.

He said: “When I ask 'how long have you been smoking (cannabis)?' they say it is years. There's a guy here today who has been smoking cannabis since he was 10 - it's one of the worst drugs on the street for mental health issues.”

Mr Wood said drink and drugs, especially when consumed together, could trigger anti-social or aggressive behaviour in young people while violent films and computer games also contributed to children going off the rails.

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said that while there had been a significant reduction in crime over the last three years, the force recognised the importance of ensuring that young people were not unnecessarily criminalised.

She said: “There has been a significant change in the last 12 months in how crime is recorded in schools which quite properly emphasises a more structured and tiered approach, working together with our youth offending teams in Essex, Southend and Thurrock.

“There has been a reduction in first time entrants to the criminal justice system and along with reducing repeat offending this remains a top priority.”

She said the force recognised that the vast majority of young people were law-abiding citizens and it was a minority who committed offences, giving a “disproportionate impression” of teenagers.

A spokesman for the Essex Criminal Justice Board, which works with the police and Essex County Council, said the statistics on youth crime included those involved in very minor offences of anti-social behaviour, many of which are dealt with by a reprimand.

She said: “Essex remains a county with a very low level of crime, including youth crime, and this has reduced considerably over the last three years.

“Essex Police, youth offending teams and other agencies are all working together to achieve a reduction in first time entrants to the criminal justice system.

“It remains a top priority for all criminal justice agencies in Essex to reduce repeat offending.”

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