Huge rise in youths put before courts

THE number of youths being dealt with by the police and courts in Suffolk has increased by 50% in the last six years, new figures have revealed.

Anthony Bond

THE number of youths being dealt with by the police and courts in Suffolk has increased by 50% in the last six years, new figures have revealed.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which released the figures, claimed the rise was due to Government targets that led to youngsters being criminalised for less-serious offences.

One Suffolk MP described the figures as disappointing but said the increase could be due to the police being more vigilant.

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The IPPR said cautions and convictions for under-18s in the county had risen by 50% - outstripping the national average of 27%.

The left-wing think thank said that while thousands more youths had been criminalised, little had been done to address re-offending rates, and that national targets had led to a disproportionate focus on minor offending by young people.

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It is now calling for young people committing non-severe crimes to be dealt with by new Community Justice Panels in which victims and community representatives are able to confront non-severe young offenders, rather than putting them through the police and court system.

James Crabtree, of the IPPR, said: “Current targets to bring more offenders 'to justice' have resulted in the police concentrating on easier to solve low level crimes committed by children and teenagers often with complex problems.

“This has not resulted in crime reduction but serves to criminalise young people, increases re-offending and misdirects important resources away from dealing with severe offences and crime prevention.

“Instead of drawing young people into the criminal justice system for non-severe offences, they are more likely to give up crime if they face up to communities and victims to pay back for their crimes and tackle the causes of offending. We should not be soft or tolerant, but the current trend of criminalisation is not working.”

Tim Yeo, the Conservative MP for South Suffolk, said it was disappointing that there had been an increase in the county but added: “I think it is hard to judge whether this is a change in behaviour and a sign that offending is getting worse or whether it is a change in police practices and they are being more vigilant. “Clearly there is an anxiety about anti-social behaviour and offences involving young people, and that is one possible explanation for the rise, but it may mean that this was behaviour that was going on already and the police are being more effective by tackling it.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said only 3% of young people convicted by a court nationally received a custodial sentence.

“In the five years up to 2005 the frequency of juvenile re-offending fell by more than 17%,” the spokesman said.

“However, there is clearly more work to do and we will push forward in our efforts to reduce re-offending further.”

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