Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 19:40 UK

How has youth crime been handled?

Tackling anti-social behaviour has been a key theme for the Labour government since it came to power in 1997.

Hoodies

But a decade-long government drive to cut youth offending has had "no measurable impact", according to one independent study.

So what measures have been put in place and how successful have they been?

NATIONAL REFORMS

At the heart of the Labour strategy since 1997 has been a complete reform of the youth justice system.

Labour set up the Youth Justice Board, which co-ordinates strategy and set targets, coupled with local-level Youth Offending Teams.

In the past, it was broadly a job for the police and courts - now there is also a huge investment from social services, education, health teams, housing officials and of course the probation service.

The theory goes that YOTs are better placed at tackling the causes of youth crime because all the right people are there at the same time to "nip problems in the bud".

However, critics say a criminal justice strategy is not the best way of solving what are arguably deeply entrenched social problems in communities where many young offenders are neither in work nor education.

WARNINGS AND SENTENCING

Labour wanted to win public trust by being seen to be doing something.

It made halving the time from arrest to sentence for young offenders one of its key five pledges - and it has had a lot of success in this field.

More controversially, the new system scrapped repeated cautions and replaced them with a "final warning", alongside lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 10, one of the lowest in Europe.

Ministers said these moves reflected the fact that some youngsters were going off the rails at a younger age - but critics said that it criminalised children whose problems could be better solved without gaining a police mugshot.

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR ORDERS (Asbos)

Asbos were one of the government's flagship initiatives on anti-social behaviour, launched in 1999.

They place restrictions on peoples' behaviour and require a lower level of evidence than bringing a full prosecution for an identifiable crime.

But in 2006 a report by the Youth Justice Board said many teenagers regarded them as a "badge of honour".

The most recent figures show 2,706 orders in total were granted in 2006, compared to 4,123 in 2005, but there were proportionally more breaches.

In 2005, 1,558 people aged between 10-17 were issued with Asbos, compared to 1,320 the previous year.

The government says its emphasis is now on handling bad behaviour before Asbos are needed, but critics say ministers are giving up on them because of "their appalling breach rate".

DISPERSAL ZONES

Dispersal zones give police the power to remove anyone under the age of 16 in specially-designated areas after nine at night.

More than 1,000 zones where such powers can be used have been established in England, Wales and Scotland since 2004.

Their aim is to stop groups of youths gathering and causing trouble and in some areas they have been warmly welcomed, winning community support from people who are annoyed with low-level aggravation.

But critics say they merely displace crime to neighbouring areas and act as a "sticking plaster" for more serious problems.

FAMILY INTERVENTION PROJECTS

The projects aim to tackle the root causes of a youth's bad behaviour before they spiral out of control.

Those selected for the scheme will be identified by schools, social workers or police but may even be volunteered by their parents.

Youths are asked to sign a good behaviour contract and receive one-to-one support by youth workers, or face a criminal record.

In March the government unveiled a 218m expansion of the initiative across England.

The scheme was welcomed by some youth workers and teachers' union the NUT, who said supporting families and stepping in early to deal with the root causes was essential.

But critics said it was a "sticking plaster" method and parents had to take responsibility for their children.

PARENTING CONTRACTS AND ORDERS

These orders attempt to engage parents to force them to ensure their children behave.

The government said in the year to September 2007 the use of parenting contracts doubled to more than 8,603.

The home secretary has proposed courts should be required to consider issuing parenting orders when giving Asbos to 10- to 17-year-olds.

The Lib Dems say the proposal shows the government is recognising that early intervention is more effective than measures like Asbos.

ON-THE-SPOT FINES

Fixed penalty notices of 80 to 100 for anti-social behaviour were introduced in 2002.

The new powers aimed to protect the public from rowdy behaviour while saving police and court time.

Anyone over 10 can be issued with notices on issues such as litter, graffiti and dog fouling.

Penalty notices for disorder, such as throwing fireworks or being drunk and disorderly can be issued to anyone over 16 years old.

Civil rights group Liberty said that it meant police would have unprecedented powers to act as judge and jury.

The police were said to have welcomed the powers, saying they would free up both police and court time.

They are also said to be extremely cost-effective. For example, Lancashire police reported efficiency savings of 1m in 2005/6.




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