In the Media

Criminals have 40 chances to flout the rules

PUBLISHED July 23, 2007

Young criminals placed on the Government's flagship community punishment scheme could break the rules more than 40 times before being sent back to court, it has been disclosed.

Offenders handed a 12-month version of the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) had to be deemed "non-compliant" on 40.5 occasions on average before official action was taken against them.

In comparison, other under-18s on the six-month version of the scheme had to break the rules only 17 times before being taken to court.

In all, 55 per cent of youths placed on pilot versions of the 12-month scheme committed a breach, compared with 65 per cent in the six-month version.

A Youth Justice Board report said: "Practitioners appeared more reluctant to breach 12-month ISSP young people than their six-month counterparts."

Those on the longer version of the order - designed as an alternative to a term of confinement - were more likely to commit a second and third breach, statistics showed.

ISSPs force youngsters to undertake a tough programme of education and other activities. The 12-month schemes were piloted in 11 areas but have now come to an end.

A Youth Justice Board spokesman said: "This study looked at a small sample - just 106 young people - going through the scheme nearly three years ago and has highlighted that there was evidence of variation in regard to breaching policy, with staff using a wide degree of discretion when deciding when non-compliance should be dealt with by breach action.

"Non-compliance is often very minor misbehaviour, including late attendance or rudeness to staff.

"However, since this study was undertaken much work has been done with youth offending team practitioners to emphasise the importance of applying the national standards regarding breach in a robust and consistent manner.

"A fresh emphasis has been placed upon swift breach for non-compliance and the importance of reinforcing the seriousness of the order by returning young people who do not comply to court."

More up to date figures showed the number of breaches had more than doubled between 2004/05 and 2005/6, he added.

Two years ago it emerged that 90 per cent of those on the scheme were re-convicted within two years, with each participant committing an average seven crimes while taking part.

A report said the principal aim of the ISSP - to reduce the rate and seriousness of offending by a hard core of young criminals - had been achieved because the frequency of offending had fallen by almost 40 per cent and the seriousness by 13 per cent.

The Youth Justice Board conceded at the time that the re-conviction rate was "very high", but added: "It was always unlikely that persistent young offenders would cease offending completely as a result of ISSP."

The study, by academics at Oxford University, said the offenders in the sample committed an average of nearly 12 crimes in the previous 24 months before going on an ISSP, so the re-conviction rate of 91 per cent was "not surprising".

ISSPs were introduced in 2001 and set out a compulsory programme of activities for offenders while keeping them closely monitored, sometimes using electronic tagging.