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YOUTH JUSTICE SYSTEM FACES CONTINUED CHALLENGES - AUDIT COMMISSION REPORT

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The Crime and Disorder Bill is currently before parliament. However, a survey of local services for young offenders...
The Crime and Disorder Bill is currently before parliament. However, a survey of local services for young offenders by the Audit Commission, Misspent Youth '98, reveals today that much remains to be done by agencies in the criminal justice system who must meet the challenges laid out in the new legislation.

Through the survey, auditors have now assessed what local authorities, the police, the probation service, the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service, need to do to address the issues raised by the Bill. Misspent Youth '98 finds that these agencies must tackle many problems if the system is to work well enough to implement the Bill successfully. These include:

On average a case takes four and a half months from arrest to sentence - over two months before it even reaches court

- Only 2% of offenders are given 'caution plus' programmes, a system shortly to be introduced everywhere as 'warnings' - despite the fact that they can reduce re-offending and save over£20m

- Youth justice workers spend only 30% of their time, on average, working with young people to tackle their offending behaviour

- One third of supervision plans do not take account of the educational needs of young offenders

- Information systems are often inadequate and do not help communication between agencies

The performance of local agencies varies and there are a number of examples of good practice. Successful initiatives have demonstrated that early intervention can be helpful in preventing re-offending, effective bail support programmes can reduce remands to custody, and that 'fast-tracking' for the most persistent offenders can speed up the process for all offenders, releasing staff to work with young people to address their offending behaviour.

But most important of all, measures to prevent young people from offending in the first place need to be developed through coordinated strategies by local agencies. Joint working between agencies such as schools, police and social services can reduce local problems and provide real benefit for young people. Information should also be shared more effectively between agencies through improved data systems.

In an earlier report, Misspent Youth, the commission found that prosecution through the courts was slow, and that most of the£1 billion spent each year on dealing with young offenders goes on processing and administration with only a small fraction spent on direct work to address offending behaviour.

Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, said:

'People working with young offenders must overcome significant challenges if they are to deliver lasting improvements to the system. One of the best ways to address crime committed by young people is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Successful implementation of the Bill is a challenge not just to councils and the police but to everyone involved in youth justice to work together to reduce offending and provide opportunities for young people to make a fresh start.'

- Misspent Youth '98, The Challenge for Youth Justice (ISBN 1862400997) is available from Audit Commission Publications) on freephone 0800 502030 priced£20

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