Scotland's children's hearing system needs to be reinforced to continue as an effective way of dealing with youth crime, an inquiry has found.
Children's Hearings deal with the needs of youngsters, rather than their deeds
The system, set up more than 30 years ago, seeks to prevent youngsters from getting into trouble, rather than punishing them.
The inquiry by charity NCH Scotland concluded a fully resourced system could lead the world in child justice.
And it warned against a move towards increasingly punitive measures.
NCH Scotland insisted that the children's hearing system should remain at the centre of efforts to tackle youth offending but stressed that the system needed
significant reform and more resources.
The report, which follows a year-long inquiry by an independent panel,
said the children's hearing system offered "the most effective way forward".
"However it needs to be fully resourced and enthusiastically supported if it
is to work to best effect," it said.
The report warned that systems focusing on courts and punishment were the most
costly and pointed out that 75% of young people sentenced to custody went on to
It recommended a more preventative approach with early intervention with
troublemakers and a major expansion of community-based programmes which were
more effective and cheaper.
Panel chair and former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway said: "It is very
clear from the evidence presented to us from the police, from lawyers, from
academics and from young people themselves that there is strong consensus that a
punitive, court based system is the wrong approach.
"Young people in trouble who go into the court system stay there. Many become
hardened life-long offenders.
"We need to be developing effective solutions for the 21st century rather
than retreating back to 19th century models of punishment and containment."
The report made a string of recommendations including greater involvement of
the police in hearings and more say for communities in measures to tackle youth
It demanded that cash be moved away from custody to preventative and
rehabilitative work after complaining that only £30m of the Scottish Executive's
£240m youth justice budget was being spent on non-custodial sentencing.
It comes as the executive seeks to pass its Anti-Social Behaviour Bill which is aimed at cracking down on youth crime.
Another report into the system, being published on Tuesday, is set to reveal a continuing increase in the number of referrals to the Children's Panels.