Blair opposes new secure units for young offenders

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The Independent Online
LABOUR will oppose a new generation of approved schools for tackling juvenile crime, Tony Blair, the party's spokesman on home affairs, said yesterday.

Presenting a number of measures in a report called Getting a grip on youth crime, he said Labour would support an expansion of the existing style of secure accommodation for juvenile offenders run by local authorities.

But Mr Blair made it clear that Labour would not support plans by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, to give courts the power to send 12- to 16-year-olds to specially built approved school-style units. 'We believe building on secure accommodation - as Virginia Bottomley (Secretary of State for Health) is quoted as saying - is the better way to go.'

The six main points in Labour's plan are: more local authority secure places; earlier intervention, including support for the family of a problem child; a change in the law to enable serious repeat offences to be taken into account when sentences are passed, and acceleration of youth cases; a requirement for the Crown Prosecution Service to consult victims before cases are dropped; an attack on truancy and drug abuse, and youth training; and a Home Office survey of juvenile crime. Mr Blair said his plan was 'tough on crime and the causes of crime - it is not a panacea, but it is a start'.

Courts can already send juveniles to local authority secure accommodation, but Labour said there was a shortage of places.

The Labour survey showed that those between the ages of 10 and 16 were responsible for 33 per cent of burglaries, 28 per cent of criminal damage, 27 per cent of robberies and 63 per cent of car crime.

Secure accommodation can be used by the courts for those under 15 on remand awaiting trial, for juveniles who have committed serious offences, and for juveniles serving up to six months under a supervision order. Under a provision of the Children Act, courts can use the secure accommodation where supervision orders have failed, but Labour researchers found this was rarely used.

Children may also be sent to local authority secure accommodation under civil proceedings with care orders where the child is beyond parental control.

'We should make available sufficient places in secure accommodation so that those young offenders who are out of control and persistently offending can be properly contained.

'It is a tragedy when we reach the stage of having to detain young people, quite apart from the enormous expense. That should be the last resort. It is far better to target resources at preventing such a situation arising. But where it is necessary for the public's safety to detain, that facility must be made available.'

Mr Blair said: 'All the way through, the child should be given chances; they should be chances that make him face up to his responsibility and realise that if chances are not taken, his freedom of lifestyle will be progressively restrained.'

He said cautioning was sufficient in 87 per cent of cases, but should be used only 'when appropriate'.