Tories ignore crime study

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The Independent Online
HOME OFFICE ministers are ignoring the results of the most wide-ranging study yet on the links between unemployment and crime, according to a leading expert on working with young offenders.

Dr James Maguire, a clinical psychologist at Ashworth Special Hospital, Liverpool, said it was wrong to build more secure units when ministers had evidence that - contrary to claims by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary - prison does not work.

Mr Howard's Criminal Justice Bill, currently passing through Parliament, creates stiffer sentences for young offenders and new tough 'secure units' for repeat offenders. Mr Howard told the Conservative Party conference last year that 'prison works'.

Ministers' refusal to reconsider their commitment to prison for young and persistent offenders was highlighted last week when figures were released showing a fall in both unemployment and crime rates. In 1993, crime in England and Wales dropped for the first time since 1988, a fall of 1.1 per cent over the previous year. Figures show that unemployment also stopped increasing about a year ago - about the time that crime began to drop.

But at a Home Office news conference last Tuesday, David Maclean, the Home Office Minister of State, declined to make the link, and refused to comment on reports that his officials had advocated greater provision of employment as 'the single biggest intervention' likely to tackle persistent offending.

The internal briefing paper - leaked to the Independent on Sunday - on which senior officials based their proposal also suggests that the sense of 'relative deprivation' between rich and poor is a contributory factor to rising crime.

The Independent on Sunday has now established that the source of the principal message of the paper was an internal seminar on re-offending held at the Home Office in February.

During the seminar , entitled, despite the Home Secretary's public certainties, 'What works?', Dr Maguire outlined the results of the biggest-ever study on projects dealing with habitual young criminals. That 1990 study, by an American criminologist, Dr Mark Lipsey, surveyed 397 projects on working with young offenders from around the world.

Dr Maguire told the Home Office that Dr Lipsey had concluded that employment for offenders reduced repeat offending by more than one- third, but deterrence programmes, including prison sentences, increased offending, also by 30 per cent. Such research, he told the seminar, indicated 'what works'.

He said last week that it was apparent that Home Office officials were picking up the message, but politicians were ignoring it.

'It shows that it is not going to do any good to build any more secure units. Prison is counter-productive.'

The evidence of Dr Lipsey's research was that there were positve measures that could be taken to tackle juvenile crime, he said.'

Research published over the past six months also confirms that unemployment and deprivation are linked to crime. Three studies - one by the Probation Service, the others at Cambridge University and the University Of Middlesex - all indicate that, while no one factor causes crime, rising crime can be linked to social deprivation.

The Probation Service carried out research through its employment working group between July and December last year. Using 28,000 pre-sentence reports from around the country, it found that nearly 70 per cent of offenders were registered unemployed.

Professor Jock Young, of the University of Middlesex, said that free-market values had sown disillusionment for those trapped in poverty.