Labour's broken promise fails the young on crime, say experts

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The Independent Online

Labour's strategy for tackling violent crime is failing Britain's young people, a group of former Whitehall advisers and criminal justice experts will warn the Government today.

The damning critique of 10 years of New Labour policy on street violence and antisocial behaviour comes amid a wave of knife killings in Britain's inner cities. Ministers are accused of relying on "flat earth... science" to justify knee-jerk policies instead of confronting the social realities in which crime is committed.

Professor Simon Halls-worth, a former adviser to the Government on gang crime, criticises Labour for giving up on its commitment to being tough on the causes of crime. It is "deeply sinister", he warns, to replace this policy with one that is only concerned with the "management of risk".

Professor Hallsworth, the director of London Metropolitan University's Centre for Social Evaluation and Research, dismisses the Home Office's recently published Tackling Violence Action Plan as "antisocial criminology", adding that it is "hardly evidence-driven policy". Writing in Criminal Justice Matters, the magazine of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, he describes the policy as "a cold, soulless, administrative technocratic programme for mapping and managing risks wherever they appear: a post-welfare programme fit for the emergent national security state" that is unlikely to work.

In a separate article in the same magazine, Professor Rod Morgan, the former head of the Youth Justice Board, says he was "incensed... by the incomprehension and arrogance regarding the research process which some administrators displayed".

Professor Morgan, professor of criminal justice at the University of Bristol and visiting professor of the London School of Economics, notes that "some of the politically highest-profile policy areas, such as antisocial behaviour, involved initiatives where there was little or no evidence base and no serious attempt to collect data, even to the point of not honouring government obligations to monitor ethnic impact." He says there is now a "destructive lack of trust and comprehension" between ministers and academics.

"Many politicians feel that academics are insufficiently in touch with the public concerns which are brought to bear on them, directly through their constituency surgeries or the mass media. And many academics seem to make the assumption that most politicians cynically take populist initiatives for the sake of the short-term electoral advantage, knowing they will have no long-term benefit in terms of reduced offending."

He added that the Government should resist knee-jerk reactions. "Nothing will be solved by adopting more Draconian punishments. We've got them already, and they're not proving enough of a deterrent. Youngsters convicted of murder receive life sentences – and a life sentence today is far longer than would have been the case 10 or 20 years ago. We send more young people to custody than any other western European country."