Blow To War On Neds As Serial Crime Rate Rises 10%

The number of persistent young offenders jumped 10% last year in the clearest sign yet of a setback to the Scottish Executive’s self-proclaimed “war on neds”. Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has already signalled that the executive will miss its target of cutting the number of persistent offenders by 10%. Now figures obtained by The Herald show numbers are rising faster than before she launched her crusade to bring them down in 2003. Fully 1388 youngsters aged between eight and 16 qualified as persistent young offenders in 2005-2006, according to leaked figures from the annual report of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, which is scheduled to be published today.

That was 128 or just over 10% more than a figure of 1260 recorded a year earlier.

The Herald last month revealed that the entire children’s hearing system was being swamped with referrals for youngsters who were either offending or at risk.
Although nearly 54,000 children were referred to children’s reporters in 2005-2006 – more than ever before – today’s report will reveal just 17,624 were referred on offence grounds last year – up just 130 from the year before.

However, it is the rise in persistent youth offenders that has left Ms Jamieson and her colleagues most embarrassed. Ms Jamieson and the executive last night said they would not comment until the official figures are published today.

However, she has not hidden the fact targets cutting persistent offending will not be met and has insisted on keeping a target to make further cuts in the figures by 2008.
Last month she told an Edinburgh conference that progress across the country in reducing the figure was “patchy”.

Ms Jamieson said areas where agencies worked together had made the biggest progress. “I expect everybody to redouble their efforts to make that joint-working a reality and a priority. Where local areas are off the pace, we will ensure that they learn from those who are ahead of them.”

Christine Grahame, SNP MSP, last night said: “Cathy Jamieson has no grip over the growing problem of persistent young offending or the agencies which are meant to be tackling this issue. From the start the minister has failed to put in place adequate resources or to ensure the relevant agencies are working closely enough together.”

Three years ago, the Scottish Executive changed its definition of a persistent young offender to someone aged between eight and 16 who was referred to the children’s reporter on five or more occasions in the course of any six-month period. The earliest comparable figure, therefore, dates from 2003-2004, when the number of persistent youth offenders stood at 1201.

The Herald yesterday revealed concerns among senior youth justice sources that the executive would turn away from its traditional and unique children’s hearing system, which deals with offenders and young people at risk, in favour of youth courts, which only handle children accused of crime. The executive said it would make an announcement “within a few months” on whether it intended to introduce more youth courts after pilots in Airdrie and Hamilton.

Sources within the children’s hearing system and the Association of Directors of Social Work have previously warned they are finding it difficult to deal with rising numbers of referrals, mostly on the grounds of care and protection rather than offending.

The Herald understands the executive has turned down a desperate bid for an extra £20m over three years from the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration.