Punishment to fit the crime for young offenders

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Indy Politics
Penal affairs groups expressed concerns yesterday at government plans to order children as young as 10 to carry out work in the community as a punishment for crimes.

Under the proposals to be announced by Labour in the Queen's Speech tomorrow, young offenders can be told to apologise to their victims and make reparation by either doing work directly connected to their crime, or for the wider community.

The scheme, which was suggested by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, last year will form part of Labour's new Crime and Disorder Bill. The aim of the new "reparation orders" is to make young people understand the impact of their offences on victims. At present offenders aged between 10 and 16 cannot be ordered to do community work. They are usually fined, which Labour believes rarely acts as a deterrent.

But Paul Cavadino, chairman of the Penal Affairs Consortium, an alliance of 33 organisations, said any work should be confined to dealing directly with the victim. He said: "A mini-community service order is unlikely to work with child offenders. To carry out a sustained piece of community work requires a degree of maturity."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, added: "Schemes must benefit the community, attract the co-operation of the child and reduce the chances of reoffending. Ideally, these youngsters should be involved in creative activities from which they can take pride in producing something."

The reparation orders are aimed at children involved with less serious offences, such as vandalism and shoplifting. Details of an order, such as how many hours a youngster would have to put in during its three-month duration, would be drawn up by Youth Offender Teams, made up of representatives from local authority social services and education departments as well as probation officers, which would also oversee their implementation.

Depending on individual circumstances, youngsters could be ordered to work directly for their victims, or to pay their debt by working for the wider community, either individually or in groups.

The Youth Offender Teams will also be able to insist on offenders providing a written or verbal apology to their victims.

Typically, vandals who scrawl graffiti on a neighbour's wall could be ordered to clean it up, while those who vandalise parks could be put to work picking up litter or replanting trees.

The orders will make up part of a package of measures in the Bill designed to tackle youth crime, they include a proposal for court-ordered curfews for children as young as 10 who are allowed to roam the streets late at night.