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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Blunkett targets young criminals
Vandalism
The measure is part of a campaign against street crime
Persistent young offenders face being locked up while they await trial under new powers given to courts, the home secretary has announced.

David Blunkett told a conference on youth crime on Tuesday that 12 to 16-year-olds can now be held on remand if they have a history of crime.


They build their credibility by actually showing they can get away with anything and still be on the streets a day later

David Blunkett

The measure is part of a campaign against street crime and the young criminals Mr Blunkett says brag to their friends that they can do anything and still be free the next day.

It comes as Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said police were now arresting children as young as eight for serious offences such as robbery.

The extra powers for remanding young offenders were made law last year.

Need for help

Mr Blunkett is signing an order so they can be used in 10 crime hotspots from June and nationwide from September.

He told the conference of his concern over repeat offenders "who cock a snook at the police and the community who build their credibility with their peer group by actually showing they can get away with anything and still be on the streets a day later".

Sir John Stevens is expected to announce playground patrols
Those youngsters needed help themselves, said Mr Blunkett, who insisted that tough jail sentences could go hand in hand with other law and order methods.

The home secretary also announced the extension of a scheme which compels the mothers and fathers of unruly teenagers to attend special parenting classes.

And he was looking at expanding the use of care orders and protective custody where other measures have failed to halt offending by children as young as 10.

Car crime

At present, teenagers can only be locked up on remand in secure accommodation if they are suspected of committing serious or violent offences.

Now the powers will be extended to include those accused of crimes like car theft and criminal damage.

About 600 places in local authority secure units will be made available by transferring some older teenagers into young offender institutions.

Moving convicted young offenders from secure accommodation is risky and it could seriously backfire

Harry Fletcher
Napo

Parenting orders can already be imposed on the parents of youngsters who have committed a criminal offence.

Now the government wants police to have the power to issue them when teenagers are judged to be in danger of slipping into a life of crime.

With police voicing concern that courts are not tough enough with offenders, Mr Blunkett has also agreed that very often sentences were "breathtaking".

Prison alternatives

"However, to get it right we have to have a sentencing policy that takes a common sense view of first offences and non-violent offences," Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

That meant offering alternatives to crowded prisons, he said.

Sir John, who is announcing plans for greater links between police and schools, told a London conference on youth crime that children were breaking out of the "normal calendar of offending".

"We are seeing children as young as eight coming into our custody suites for the first time when they have been arrested for robbery," he said.

"Robbery is an offence for which an adult can receive a life sentence - it is right in the top branches of the criminal tree."

'Vulnerable youngsters'

Toby Harris, who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority, said early intervention was the key to diverting young people away from crime.

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, warned that sending more youngsters to secure accommodation could be counter-productive.

While Harry Fletcher, of probation union Napo, who said the measure was "risky" and could "seriously backfire".

Conservative home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin said: "We need to do something much bigger and more radical and deal with the fact that the way we treat young offenders just does not work."

For the Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes said the public wanted something to be done but he questioned how the scheme would be resourced.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Westhead
"The government wants to go further"
Home Secretary David Blunkett
"We need a common sense sentencing policy"
Sir John Stevens of the Metropolitan Police
"Youth crime is probably the most important crime issue facing the police"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Parenting
Your views on unruly children
See also:

16 Apr 02 | Education
Police 'not patrolling playgrounds'
16 Apr 02 | UK
Parents 'need more help'
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Magistrates raise 'young thugs' fears
09 Apr 02 | Education
Teachers welcome police in schools
26 Mar 02 | Education
Daily abuse teachers are facing
23 Aug 01 | UK
Youth justice: How it works
25 Mar 02 | Education
Q & A: Parenting orders
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