Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

Commons Gate

Youth offending: the delivery of community and custodial sentences (307-i)

Public Accounts Committee 2 Feb 2004

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Evidence presented on Monday 2 February 2004 by Mr Narey, Mr Hickson, Mr Wheatley, Ms Lowit, Mr Perfect and Mr Bowers

Q41 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Like Frank and the Chairman, I found this report absolutely depressing and frustrating, because clearly, as far as I can see, the situation is getting a darn sight worse rather than better. It seems to me, whatever you are doing, and you may well be very sincere in what you are doing, is completely failing. The statistics show that, I am afraid, regardless of what you say. We can only take it from the reports that we get. What amazes me sometimes is how people sit there and argue the exact opposite of what is written down in the report. Could you tell me before we start what is the record of re-offending of youngsters in, say, the European Union countries or America? Is it as bad as ours? Do you have statistics on it?

Mr Perfect: I am not sure about the record in the European Union, but it is worth noting that in this country the re-offending for people on community interventions was 34 % and it is now 26 %, and I think that is quite clearly an achievement.

Q42 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do not think that is an answer to my question. Do you have statistics that show how many offences are committed in the European Union by youngsters between the age of 10 and 17? For example, could you tell us the number of offences in France, the number of offences in Germany, the number of offences in Italy and how it has risen or declined, say, since 1991? I am very interested in the statistics.

Mr Narey: We could produce statistics for you, Mr Steinberg. We will gladly do so. Inevitably, comparisons between different jurisdictions are sometimes very difficult because they have different court systems, and the same behaviour does not necessarily result in a court appearance.

Q43 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Beating up an old lady or breaking into a shop and stealing is the same, I would have thought, in France as it is in this country.

Mr Narey: Certainly, for things like that, we will produce comparative information for you. I would like to say - and this is not me arguing with the report - I thought this was an encouraging report. I thought it was recognising that some progress was being made in difficult circumstances, and I really and truly believe it is. I think that what we are now doing with young people, both in and out of custody, is much more likely to result in their turning away from re-offending than anything that was happening four or five years ago.

Q44 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Turn to page 10 and look at figure 2. I looked at this and I thought to myself, "Oh, my God." There we were in 1991 with 19,000 offences. In 2001 there were 34,000 offences. The Government came in in 1997 with the promise that this was one of their priorities, and what happened was that we saw offences increase from 26,000 to 34,000 in four years: 8,000 more offences. That is what it says here.

Mr Narey: I think this graph refers to those given a community or custodial sentence. The amount of offending by young people has not been increasing since 1992.

Mr Perfect: If I can explain, in the mid 1990s three out of five young offenders were dealt with by pre-court disposal, caution, repeat caution, oral warning, where there was no intervention. More of those people are now going to court. In the mid 1990s 37% of people found guilty at court were given a conditional discharge, and those people are now getting an action plan or a referral order. What this shows is the youth justice system is doing more about the offending of young offenders even though no more young people are known to offend.

Q45 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What you are saying is that in 1991 there were exactly the same number of crimes being committed but they were not being punished in those days.

Mr Perfect: There were more young offenders known to offend in the mid 1990s than today, but they were not getting an intervention. There was an Audit Commission report produced in the mid 1990s saying we were spending £1 billion processing people through the youth justice system and nobody was talking to them, let alone doing anything about their offending behaviour. That has been changed substantially.

Mr Narey: In that period, Mr Steinberg, it was not at all uncommon for young offenders to be given five or six successive cautions. Now young offenders get a reprimand, possibly followed by a final warning, and that is it; they are then taken to court.

Q46 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What we are seeing is that the true figure of offences over the last ten years is not double but almost: 34,000 compared to 19,000 in 1991.

Mr Narey: These are individuals, boys and girls, aged 10-17, given a community or custodial sentence at court. We believe that the amount of offending by this age group has not increased over that period. What has happened is they are being dealt with; much more is being done with young people. As the report recognises, the chance of someone ----

Q47 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): How do you mean much more is being done?

Mr Narey: Because someone is much more likely now to go to court.

Q48 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What you are saying to me is all you have done is to record the number of crimes that are being committed and the punishments that have taken place, whereas pre 1997 they actually got off four times before anything happened. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Perfect: No. The people who were dealt with before court in the mid 1990s got a repeat caution, and only 4% of them had any interventions whatsoever. Today we expect about 80% of final warnings to be supported by an intervention, so those who are being dealt with before court are getting some form of intervention, which is not shown on this chart, because this chart excludes cautions, reprimands, warnings, discharges and fines, as it says at the bottom. In the mid 1990s 37% of young people found guilty at court were getting a conditional discharge. Today, as this report shows, that is down to 12%.

Q49 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So what you are saying now is that at least we are getting some sort of punishment.

Mr Perfect: Yes.

Q50 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Fair enough, but if there are 34,000 offences taking place, it is not much of a deterrent, is it?

Mr Narey: Of a given number of offences, which we are saying is reasonable stable, the chance of something happening to a young person found guilty of an offence is now much greater than ten years ago. They are much more likely to be either given a community punishment or a custodial punishment.

Q51 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): They are actually being punished now you mean, whereas previously they were not punished?

Mr Narey: Certainly that is the case.

Q52 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Fair enough. That is an improvement at least. If we turn to paragraph 2.12 on page 20, it says that some youth offending teams have a policy never to recommend custodial sentences to the courts. I worked it out at about 30%. So 30% of your offending teams have a policy never to recommend a custodial sentence. That is outrageous! Unless I am reading it wrong.

Mr Perfect: There is a cultural problem to address.

Q53 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): A cultural problem!

Mr Perfect: There are also things that we can do to help it. The Crime and Disorder Act puts the duty on the local authorities and the probation service in the form of the youth offending teams. The culture that we had in the Seventies and Eighties was to divert young people from the courts to not very much, and from custody to not very much, and that is what we are busy trying to change. When it gets to a child or young person who needs a custodial sentence to protect themselves or to protect the community, we do expect the youth offending team to take charge of the detention training order, recommend it, plan it and do the supervision order from the start. Some of them are not doing that, and we need to help them do that. One of the things that we can do and have done with the Prison Service is to develop a case management tool, which starts from the risk factor ----

Q54 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do apologise. I only have two minutes left. When was Community Service first introduced, as a matter of interest?

Mr Narey: It has been in existence in one form or another for as long as I remember, certainly more than 20 years.

Q55 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I have watched and been and seen youngsters on Community Service, and if that is a deterrent - we have an expression in the North East of England - I will eat hay with a cuddy, in other words I will eat hay with a horse if that is a deterrent. It is no more a deterrent than sending them to see Sunderland Football Club on a Saturday afternoon. It is not a deterrent at all. They laugh at you. I have watched them putting two fingers up to the supervisors. They think it is a huge joke. No wonder they keep coming backwards and forwards, offending and re-offending: they know that at the end of the day nothing is going to happen to them.

Mr Narey: I think that may have been the case once. I am from the North East as well and I was speaking to magistrates in your constituency last Saturday. I could take you to community punishments for young offenders and older people in the North East, and I guarantee you would think there had been a transformation.

Q56 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So why are they still re-offending?

Mr Narey: Because some of the problems we have with people are very great. We do not have any magic wands, but I can promise you - and I will do this if you wish. I could show you community punishments which have radically changed from some of the things you will have seen some years ago.

Q57 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I have been told my time is up. Can I ask one final question? The report talks about reducing the number of custodial sentences over X % over the next number of years, but in effect, only 7% of sentences handed out are actually custodial in the first place. Could I suggest that you make custodial sentences to 50% of those who commit crimes and cause my constituents the most horrendous time sometimes, and let us see if that is a deterrent rather than letting them dig a cabbage patch and doing that to the bloke who is supervising them when they walk past?

Mr Narey: If that were the alternative, I would have some sympathy with that. I can promise you - and I am very willing to demonstrate it - that that is not the alternative.

Q58 Chairman: What do you mean, that is not the alternative?

Mr Narey: The sort of picture of community punishment which Mr Steinberg has, which I think was the case some years ago, where a frequent caricature is painting a bedroom for an old lady. That has moved on. A lot of the work now involves real reparation to the community. For example, I saw community punishment in the city of Chester quite recently, where young offenders had painted a multi-storey car park brilliant white, a huge breezeblock car park.

Q59 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Allowing the next bloke down the street to come along with his spray can.

Mr Narey: I promise you CCTV is now operating and working because of the additional light. It was a very significant contribution back to the safety of that community.


Q157 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): On the front cover of the report it shows a young yob smashing a car window. If that was his first offence what would you expect him to get and if it was his fourth offence what would you expect him to get?

Mr Perfect: It depends what is happening. As I sit here, it is probably an actor.

Q158 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do realise that.

Mr Perfect: The first offence is the police officer explaining to him about the effect on the victim. For the second offence an intervention is ordered with a final warning, which is actually looking at what is happening in that child's life and, if he is out of school, getting him back into school, that sort of thing. For the third offence he would go to court and if found guilty he would get a referral these days.

Q159 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What does that mean?

Mr Perfect: He would be overseen by three volunteers from the community on the Youth Offender Panel.

Q160 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Are you surprised that they do that to you?

Mr Perfect: The Youth Offender Panels have been really effective.

Q161 Mr Bacon: Where does the birching come in?

Mr Perfect: Birching is off.

Q162 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): And the fourth time?

Mr Perfect: On the fourth occasion they would probably get an action plan order.

Q163 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The fifth?

Mr Perfect: They would be getting up for a supervision order. If he was doing this each time he would be getting an intensive supervision order.

Q164 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What does that mean?

Mr Perfect: Tagging, and tagging can mean being incarcerated in your home from eight o'clock till eight o'clock. There would be full time -----

Q165 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So he is free to do it other than eight o'clock to eight o'clock?

Mr Perfect: An ISSP recommendation is usually accompanied by a timetable which shows the magistrate what is happening for 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Q166 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Sixth?

Mr Perfect: On the sixth offence, if he has done it while he is on the ISSP, he could well go into custody.

Chairman: So he has to break into this poor person's car six times before he is locked up?

Q167 Mr Field: The person has to be caught six times before anything happens.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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