Speaking at the Police Superintendents' Association annual conference, Mr Straw said the targets should be seen as a further sign of the government's determination to deliver its pledge to halve the time it takes from arrest to sentence for all persistent young offenders.
The new guidance, issued jointly by the lord chancellor's department and the home office requires that the police, prosecutors, courts and other agencies must work to new performance indicators to tackle delays in the youth justice system.
'Measuring Performance to Reduce Delays' outlines data collection arrangements and set time interval targets for dealing with persistent young offenders. These targets, which will be reviewed
- two days from arrest to charge
- seven days from charge to first appearance
- 14 days from verdict to sentence
The circular offers advice on how to use the targets to identify difficulties and good practice.
Publishing the new circular, Jack Straw said: 'Speeding up youth justice is a crucial aspect of our reform agenda. When we came to office the average time taken to deal with persistent young offenders was 142 days or four and a half months, from arrest to sentence. I have even heard of cases taking well over a year to complete. This is not acceptable.
'Delays are bad for victims, bad for the taxpayer, bad for your members and bad for the offenders themselves. They serve no one. Much is already being done by the police and other agencies involved in this field and I am encouraged that more than half of all youth court areas, about 160, have planned or are planning fast track schemes to speed up youth justice.
'But there is much more to be done. We are therefore publishing a series of performance targets today to help local areas across the country make progress in reducing unnecessary delay. They are tough and challenging targets. But they are achievable.
'You, as the essential gatekeepers in the system which deals with young offenders have a crucial role to play and I am sure that I can count on your full co-operation in achieving our aim.'
During his speech, Jack Straw also underlined the importance of continuous and sustained improvements in police effectiveness and efficiency. To support this, from April 1999 police authorities will be required to produce plans showing how they will achieve and reinvest two per cent efficiency savings.
He urged police forces to look at all options for efficiency savings, including reducing sickness absence, more effective training provision, better use of assets and better procurement practice.
Mr Straw said: 'Better quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the police service is crucial if local communities are to be given the level of service they are entitled to. Real strides have been made in improving efficiency and effectiveness in the last few years, but more needs to be done'.
He also stressed the key role that police superintendents will have in implementing the Crime and Disorder Act and praised the enthusiasm of forces all over the country in preparing local strategies to tackle offending: 'The Act will, I believe, have a profound effect on the criminal justice system. The community safety provisions of the Act will firmly establish the effective partnerships that many of your members have successfully forged across the country, and the duty to produce strategies for tackling crime and disorder will ensure the active involvement of the people who work and live in the community.
'I am very keen to reiterate the message that I want to see divisional and area commanders playing a key role in developing and implementing these multi- agency strategies.
'So I urge you not only to take personal responsibility for the police service input into this work at these early stages, but also to sustain that personal commitment throughout the lifetime of the
first strategies and beyond.
'Additionally, the new Anti-Social Behaviour Orders will, I believe, give the authorities the tools required to fight back on behalf of the law-abiding majority and, once again, it will be you, local
superintendents who will have a key role here'.
Jack Straw went on to emphasise the importance of the government's new£250m crime reduction strategy in working towards identifying the causes of crime and thereby reducing the possibility of criminal behaviour developing in the first instance.