Public spending cutbacks could jeopardise successful initiatives to cut youth offending because too little research has been conducted into what does and does not work, according to the National Audit Office.
A new report from the watchdog says that young criminals cost the nation’s economy up to £11bn last year alone, and that despite a 25% reduction in the volume of youth offending, no progress has been made with the worst examples over the past decade.
The NAO said that the current number of first-time entrants to the youth-justice system was the lowest since comparable records began in 2001, and that the number of youngsters held in custody had reduced by 14% over the past five years at a time when the adult prison population grew by 14%.
However it said that reoffending rates for those young people who received more serious community sentences were “much less encouraging”.
Furthermore, the report, The Youth Justice System in England and Wales: Reducing Offending by Young People (see file at right), said too little evidence of what was most effective in terms of stopping youngsters from committing further crimes had been collected.
It said that a survey had found some three-quarters of Youth Offending Team managers believed it was difficult to find evidence of what works for certain areas of their work.
Report authors said that against a backdrop of reducing resources, the system was in a weak position to know which activities to cut and which to keep to ensure that outcomes do not deteriorate.
NAO head Amyas Morse said that while the report recognised real improvement, the lack of research was concerning.
“Young people receiving more serious community sentences and custodial sentences are just as likely to reoffend today as they were in 2000,” he said.
“More should be done to find out which interventions are the most effective in dealing with offending behaviour so that, in future, money can be directed at what works.”