'Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less,' he said.
The Prime Minister's remarks, in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, came as Labour prepared to launch a 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' policy that will keep the issue high on the political agenda.
Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, will this week support detention of persistent young offenders as well as a new social programme to prevent children from turning into criminals.
Virgina Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, has raised objections to the private sector-run secure approved schools which Mr Clarke intends to establish for persistent young offenders.
Mrs Bottomley, who may have to make changes to the 1989 Children's Act, has questioned whether the job could not instead be done by some of the 65 local authority secure accommodation units the Government is pledged to establish during this Parliament.
Mrs Bottomley said yesterday: 'The Children Act 1989 clarifies the statutory duties on parents. It recognises the needs of children and the responsibilities of their parents. It is time parents, the public and professionals alike understood that real caring takes time. It is as much about saying 'no' as it is about saying 'yes'.'
But the Home Office's conviction that Mr Major will back Mr Clarke was underlined by the Prime Minister's interview yesterday. He said that persistent juvenile offenders had their 'wrists slapped' in juvenile courts.
He added: 'They are nervous, it is the first time. They go again, they are less nervous. They go a third time, they say: 'Well, who can do anything to us?' '
Mr Blair will make clear that Labour now supports the detention of the minority of persistent teenage offenders. But he will argue that they should be held as close as possible to their homes and families. At the same time, he will argue that much better co-ordination among schools, police and social services is needed to ensure that younger children who have already had brushes with the police do not become persistent offenders.
Mr Blair said that, while some offenders had to be locked up, 'the fact is that the system has already failed when you get to that stage'.
He will disclose Home Office figures showing that a majority of teenagers who offend persistently - for example, in committing car crime - have been in trouble with the police since the age of 10. Senior Labour figures now believe that there is wide public support for tackling the causes of crime, provided the party also backs tough treatment of offenders.
Mr Blair said yesterday: 'There is no excuse for the crime, but if you create a group of people who believe they've got no stake in society it's hardly surprising if they behave anti-socially.'
MPs of all parties have signed an Early Day Motion, promoted by the Liberal Democrat David Alton, calling for a Royal Commission on Violence.Reuse content