Clarke to examine juvenile crime

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

NEW INSTITUTIONS could be created and fresh powers given to courts to tackle the hard core of persistent juvenile offenders, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, told police officers last night.

Mr Clarke signalled to the annual meeting of the Metropolitan Police Federation that he wanted to examine possible new custodial punishments for such offenders, for whom prison was unsuitable.

The Home Secretary's statement is likely to be opposed by penal reformers who argue that attempts to lock up teenage offenders have no effect on reconviction rates. Police officers, however, maintain that new measures are needed to tackle the hard core of young offenders who are responsible for a high proportion of crime, particularly when re-offending while on bail.

Mr Clarke, who said that studies showed that more than 87percent of those cautioned did not re-offend, told the meeting: 'I see considerable force in the argument that, for a very small number of children who are offending frequently and are out of control, we need increased court powers to lock up, educate and train those children in their own interests and everyone else's.

'We will certainly be taking a long hard look at the options .. If court powers need to be strengthened or new institutions created, then they will be.'

Home Office sources stressed Mr Clarke had not come to any conclusions but had asked officials to examine options and chief constables to supply evidence of the problem. There was no suggestion of a return to borstals or 'short, sharp, shock centres'.

Last week, Mr Clarke urged local authorities to provide more secure accomodation for juvenile offenders, who, under the new Criminal Justice Act, cannot be held in police custody while awaiting trial.

Mr Clarke was responding to Mike Bennett, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, who said police were wasting their time arresting young offenders. 'Some even have the impudence to give the custody officer the business card of 'their brief' when arrested,' he said.

'The whole procedure to them is a boring waste of time. It will take more than the verbal equivalent of a light slap on the wrist to prevent the hard core of juvenile offenders from re-offending.

'Parents should be bending over their children instead of courts binding them over.'

Mr Bennett also warned that the public could take the law into their own hands and 'dish out their own retribution'. He accused the Government of fostering a 'lack of care' within society: 'The philosophy of 'it's your property, you look after it', with no thought of condemning the offender serves only as an encouragement . . . to re-offend.'