New Guide To Giving Up A Life Of Crime

An eight-point guide to persuading offenders to give up a life of crime is to be published today.

The new report warns that branding young people as neds and delinquents and involving them in the justice system too early in their lives will lead to more victims of crime.

It suggests that agencies should instead make less use of prisons and labels and place more emphasis on raising their self-esteem and reasons for changing their ways.

The research sets out eight principles to help offenders to give up crime and states that it will take time and patience for reoffending to be curbed.

It is published today by the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, the umbrella organisation for groups including the Howard League and Sacro, and a copy has been sent to Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary.

Mr MacAskill has already made clear his views on the importance of tackling the causes of crime and is thought to be in agreement with some of the underlying messages in the report. Cathy Jamieson, the former justice minister, pledged to reduce reoffending by 2% by 2010 – an aim many experts see as impractical.

Scotland proportionately has one of western Europe’s highest prison populations and highest rates of reoffending. The report recommends that prisons should be used less because they perpetuate people’s cycles of offending behaviour.

Of the prisoners released in Scotland in 1999, 60% were convicted of another offence within two years. In contrast, 42% of offenders who received a community service order were reconvicted. Since 2004, further use has been made of community sentences but experts say this had little impact on prisoner numbers because of a lack of resources.

The report warns that branding people and “intervening too much, too soon and in the wrong ways runs the serious risk of establishing criminal reputations and identities rather than diminishing them”.

The report, carried out by Fergus McNeill and Beth Weaver of Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, is based on a wide range of the evidence from the UK and overseas about how and why offenders eventually give up crime. Mr McNeill, a senior lecturer with the Scottish Centre for Crime, said: “Labelling young people as neds and telling them they are part of a marginalised group cements their sense of identity and gives them a negative stereotype to live up to. This actually runs the risk of creating more victims of crime.”

The eight-point plan

  • Be realistic: criminal careers can’t be switched off like a tap.
  • Favour informal approaches: intervening too much, too soon runs the serious risk of establishing criminal reputations and identities.
  • Build positive relationships: like everyone else, offenders are most influenced to change (and not to change) by those closest to them.
  • Respect individuality: one-size-fits-all approaches run the risk of fitting no-one.
  • Use prisons sparingly: stopping crime is much easier where people maintain strong and positive social ties.
  • Recognise the significance of social contexts: giving up crime requires new networks of support and opportunity.
  • Mind our language: if the language we use influences both individuals and communities to give up on offenders, then it makes it harder for those people to give up crime.
  • Promote redemption: criminal justice policy and practice has to recognise and reward efforts to give up crime.