MPs call for single agency to deal with young criminals: An all-party committee has put forward radical proposals for a new national body to deal with juvenile offenders. Heather Mills reports

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Indy Politics
HARDENED young criminals should become the responsibility of a new national agency, according to an all-party committee of MPs.

The centrally-funded body would manage secure units for all young offenders, draw up individual programmes aimed at early rehabilitation into the community, and remain responsible for their supervision until they reached 18.

The radical proposals from the Home Affairs Select Committee fail to endorse current government plans to build new secure units for 12- to 15-year-olds. The report states: '. . . we do not favour any harsh or retributive crackdown on juvenile crime'.

The division of responsibility between the Home Office, the Department of Health and local authorities adds to the confusion surrounding a matter of serious public concern.

And, in contrast to the recent statement by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, that 'there is no excuse for crime', the committee's report concludes: 'It is clear that economic and social disadvantage, whether in family background, education, employment or housing, is intertwined with the roots of criminal behaviour by young people'.

While recognising that it cannot recommend changes in other government departments to tackle social and economic disadavantage, the committee suggests instead that all social policies might be subject to a 'juvenile crime prevention audit'.

'It is no use to achieve economic success if moral bankruptcy comes in its wake,' it concludes.

Two areas the Government should invest in were offering tax incentives to employers to take on young ex-offenders and in crime prevention. Current spending of just 0.18 per cent of the pounds 8.77bn criminal justice budget on prevention was 'miniscule'.

The report's publication coincided with the launch of new National Board for Crime Prevention, bringing together people from differing backgrounds - from industry and broadcasting to the police - to devise new methods to tackle crime.

The MPs conclude that the high- profile issue of juvenile crime has been fuelled by 'shocking' examples of young people apparently out of control and 'thumbing their noses' at the criminal justice system, and accepts that some will need to be detained in small staff-intensive units.

But the committee highlighted the lack of statistical evidence about the problem. Some witnesses claimed juvenile crime had dropped by a third in the past decade, and others said it had doubled.

Disturbed at 'horrific' examples of what could happen to young people in custody, including suicides of several teenagers while on remand, the committee also called for the immediate end to holding 15- and 16-year-olds in adult jails.