Parents of juvenile offenders targeted

PARENTS will find themselves in the dock if they fail to ensure their delinquent children fulfil new tougher community penalties, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said yesterday.

Some may be forced to pay pounds 1,000 or end up in prison. Although Mr Howard said this would only be in 'extreme cases', parents have already been jailed for failing to meet their children's court fines.

The move was attacked by probation officers who warned of the dangers of placing extra stress on already troubled families.

Mary Honeyball, general secretary of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, said: 'Obviously parents should be accountable for their children's actions but sanction upon them can be very harsh when the parent is already struggling to deal with the child's misbehaviour. It also punishes the well-behaved brothers and sisters and it could increase the likelihood of parents voluntarily putting their children into care.'

He was highlighting parental responsibility as he launched new national standards for probation and community penalties, designed to show the public they are not soft-sentencing options. Last year, 106,500 offenders were given community-based penalties - probation orders, community service orders and supervision orders for offenders aged 10 to 17.

There would be no more safari-type holidays; children as young as 10 will have to do more demanding physical work such as cleaning off graffiti and picking up litter; anyone who repeatedly breaches better-supervised community orders faces the prospect of jail; and courts will be required to consider the victim when deciding if a community-based sentence is appropriate.

Mr Howard said: 'Hard physical work to make reparation to the community for the damage they have caused; that's one of the principles I wish to see applied more extensively. All activities will be assessed to ensure they do not provide a reward for offending. That will mean an end to the approach of offering holidays for offenders. That will be banned.'

He added: 'The scales of justice have been tilted too far in favour of the offenders. Victims have had a raw deal. I want to redress the balance.'

Mr Howard said that probation officers would now have to analyse the impact of a crime upon the victim, the offender's attitude towards the victim, and the risk of reoffending, when he or she prepares a pre-sentence report for the magistrate or judge.

Alun Michael, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said: 'This is a pathetic response when we desperately need policies to cut youth crime.'

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