Drug dependency, alcohol abuse, and mental health problems, are among the problems which make it more likely that children will get involved in crime, according to the report, Children, Health and Crime. It recommends a new 'three Ps' strategy: prevention of poor health, promotion of good health, and provision of specialist services for children.
In one study mentioned in the report, more than a third of persistent young offenders were judged as having a drugs problem. In another study, more than 40% of young offenders were drunk or had drunk alcohol at the time of their offence. Overall, one half of young male, and one third of young female prisoners suffer from a mental health problems.
The report makes a series of recommendations, from better screening of children with learning difficulties, to better health care for children in prison, from national standards for school meals, to better support for parents of disruptive children.
Rob Allen, director of research for NACRO and member of the government's youth justice board, said: 'One in four people known to be involved in crime are children or young people. Drug dependency, alcohol abuse and mental health problems lie behind much of this. We need to do more, and at an earlier stage, to prevent children becoming immersed in a culture of drink and drugs, and to identify and treat children going through mental and emotional turmoil.
'This country spends only half as much on the health of its citizens as Germany. Money alone is not the answer, but investing the right kind of resources in promoting children's health can pay for itself by reducing demand on the criminal justice system and on health services for adults when children grow up.'
NACRO's 'three Ps'
Children, Health and Crime recommends a series of measures, including:
- Screening for learning difficulties from an early age
- Mediation services for parents and children, to improve strained family relationships, and support programmes for parents with difficult children
- Peer counselling projects to help difficult to reach children
- Minimum standards for school meals
- Drugs education should begin at primary school
- Drugs and alcohol education should be a core element of the national curriculum
- The development of specialist health services for children distinct from adult services
- The NHS should assume responsibility for the care and health of children in prison
1. Children, Health and Crime is the second in a series of reports from NACRO's committee on children and crime, chaired by Alex Carlile QC. Copies of the report are available from NACRO, 169 Clapham Road, London SW9 0PU, Tel: 0171 582 6500, priced£5 including p & p.
2. The report spells out how health authorities can fulfil their duties under the Crime and Disorder Act to help reduce crime in general and youth crime in particular. It will also prove valuable for crime and disorder partnerships and youth offending teams.