Youth crime costs pounds 7bn a year, researchers say

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CRIMES committed by people between 10 and 20 cost the country more than pounds 7bn a year, according to a report.

The age group accounted for about half of crimes in 1992 - about 2.5 million - and each offence cost at least pounds 2,300 of public money.

The study, Prevention Strategy for Young People in Trouble, carried out by the consultants Coopers & Lybrand, calculates that the total cost of crime is almost pounds 17bn. The proportion attributed to people aged 10 to 20 is pounds 7bn, which includes pounds 444m of criminal damage, pounds 170m on motoring offences, pounds 160m on damage during burglary, pounds 582m for violence against people, pounds 3,5bn on the criminal justice system, and pounds 640m on private security.

The financial losses from thefts are estimated at pounds 941m and pounds 585m from burglaries. Most crimes carried out by young people are offences involving property. Hidden costs such as crime prevention are not included. Researchers concluded that youth projects such as car workshops and sports schemes helped turn young people away from crime.

The findings will embarrass the Government, which has cut funding to youth schemes. A recent survey of 55 local authorities found that they had suffered a cut of almost pounds 5m in 1992-93. In the previous year, 85 per cent of the authorities questioned reported a drop in the government contribution.

The report also examined four youth study projects, in Manchester, Walsall, Newcastle upon Tyne and London, and calculated that to be cost- effective, each scheme only needed to prevent a tiny number of offences; even preventing one in 75 youths from committing one crime each year. However, the researchers were unable to find evidence that crime rates had significantly dropped as a result of the projects.

The Prince's Trust, the charity which commissioned the study with ITV Telethon, yesterday called for more public funding of youth projects.

Tom Shebbeare, director of the trust, said: 'The scale of the problem of youth crime is huge - it makes my hair stand on end. The contribution to general youth work by the state is slumping. It works when it's well targeted and is highly cost-effective. We will be encouraging the Government to put more money into projects.'

The trust called for further research into the link between youth work and crime prevention. The authors of the report say pounds 2,300 could be saved by society each time a youth crime is prevented, but point out that current public investment nationally in youth projects is pounds 30 each. Crime diversion schemes that wean young people off crime have not been a recognised or key goal of youth work, but the study indicates a positive link and calls for sharper targeting of youth work.

It says: 'There is little objective evidence to demonstrate a causal relationship between youth work and crime diversion. However, there is a large body of subjective evidence which convinces us that there is a linkage.'

Few youth schemes measure their contribution to crime prevention. The report recommends that the projects should be monitored to evaluate their impact on crime diversion.

The report was based on a series of national interviews, existing research and a small number of case studies.