Exclusive: Jobless link to crime suppressed: Home Office officials conclude the best way of stopping offenders is to provide employment, not imprisonment

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The Independent Online
SENIOR Home Office officials have conceded that government economic policies have contributed to the rise in crime by failing to provide work for young people.

An internal Home Office document, leaked to the Independent, argues that by creating a greater sense of 'relative deprivation' between the poor and the well-off, the Government has produced a class of person for whom 'a real job or even the prospect of a real job has been absent in all the crucial

formative years of individual

development'.

The document, the work of crime policy division officials, appears to caution ministers against giving the impression of being able to solve rising crime and calls for a wider debate on the issue. It says a recent review of 397 research studies on young offenders, both in Britain and abroad, showed that the 'single most effective form of intervention was the provision of employment to offenders'.

Such programmes cut recidivism by as much as a third, says the document, 'a substantial achievement when compared with the other options' - an apparent criticism of the Government's emphasis on jail.

The leak will embarrass ministers because it appears to confirm rumours of dissent within the Home Office at the tone of law and order policy, displayed most prominently by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, when he told the Tory conference last October that 'prison works'. Mr Howard's plans to increase custody for young offenders have been severely criticised by judges, lawyers and the penal reform lobby.

The document is a 'draft speaking note' prepared for use by Sir Clive Whitmore, the Home Office Permanent Secretary, at a top level Civil Service seminar on law and order last month.

Home Office sources stressed that Sir Clive rejected most of the note and said 'nothing out of line with government policy'. Although the document appears to come from Richard Stoate, head of the division, it is believed to be a collaborative effort.

It warns that the current high political profile of law and order risks giving the public the impression that more can be achieved by the criminal justice system than can be the case. It says government effort can operate only in a wider social context and that the debate 'needs to focus on a wider response' than harder or softer sentences or more police and courts.

Referring to Home Office research by Dr Simon Field which shows property crime rises and violent crime falls when the economy slows and that the converse is true when it expands, the document says it is the subject of fierce ideological debate between left and right. Ministers have distanced themselves from the conclusions.

The note makes a strong case for the independence of Home Office civil servants, who can provide 'as ministers and administrations come and go, an intellectually sound caucus of knowledge based on research . . . which may provide something of a counterweight against the ideological mood of the moment, whatever that may be.'

Acknowledging that there is no single cause or solution to crime, the writers admit to moving into the area of speculation. The document says: 'Whatever one's views about the extent of actual poverty or whether it has increased or decreased . . . over the past 15 or 20 years, there is in my judgement very little doubt that the sense of relative deprivation felt by many people who appear to have been denied the conspicuous benefits available to many has increased dramatically.'

The 'overwhelming message' from Home Office workshops among those working with juvenile offenders was that the single biggest impediment to helping them to reform was 'an inability to offer them any realistic prospects of . . . the means of achieving material

success.

'And this at a time when the concentration on the importance of material success in establishing individual self-esteem has possibly never been higher.'

It concludes by saying although it is a far too complex matter to say that unemployment simply causes crime, 'perhaps the single biggest intervention affecting the level of crime and criminality might be the ability to offer the next generation of young people better prospects of realistic full-time employment than we appear to have been able to offer this one.'

The Home Office last night played down the significance of the note, saying it was a 'very early draft' and was designed for an occasion in which 'free and open' thinking was encouraged.

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