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Motion carried with amendment: Taking Responsibility (Youth Justice Policy Paper)

March 12, 2011 2:32 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Federal Policy Committee
Mover: Tom Brake MP (Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Party Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities)
Summation: Linda Jack (Chair of the Policy Working Group)

Conference notes that although it is a minority of young people that commit crimes and acts of anti-social behaviour, those actions can lead to fear and misery in local communities.

Conference also notes that while young people are more likely than older people to be the perpetrators of crime they are disproportionately the victims of crime as well.

Conference welcomes the fact that from October 2002 to November 2010, the number of children in custody fell by a third from 3,175 to 2,045.

Conference endorses Policy Paper 99, Taking Responsibility as a statement of the party's key policies on youth justice and especially welcomes the proposals to:

1. Invest in preventing youth crime by:

a) Supporting children with misconduct problems before they reach school through Surestart services.
b) Promoting a 'whole family' approach towards offending children by engaging parents, grandparents and others to take responsibility for them through family mentoring schemes like those used in New York.
c) Encouraging Local Government, the voluntary sector and local communities to offer the opportunity for young people to engage in valuable diversionary activities.
d) Establishing systems across government to gather evidence of and to measure the long-term savings that accrue from early intervention so as to promote future investment.

2. Empowering local communities to better deal with the policing of youth crime by:

a) Encouraging Police Officers to use their discretion to deal with youth offending such as by adopting a problem-solving approach rather than unnecessarily arresting young people who admit responsibility.
b) Giving local people a direct say in crime and policing in their areas through the empowering of Police Authorities, including the right to set local policing priorities.

3. Ensure more appropriate treatment of children in the justice system by:

a) Recognising that the criminal courts are not the most effective place to deal with younger children suspected of committing criminal acts and, accordingly, raising the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales to 14.
b) Holding those under 14 who know right from wrong accountable for their criminal acts through the use of panels of specially trained people with the power to impose a range of measures, including exceptionally secure accommodation, with the aim of reducing re-offending and avoiding the imposition of a damaging lifelong criminal record.
c) Abolishing Anti-Social Behaviour Orders for young people in favour of local solutions that actually work in dealing with unacceptable conduct, such as Acceptable Behaviour Contracts; and the use of the courts or specially trained panels for serious criminal behaviour.
d) Decriminalising children in circumstances where they are best treated as victims, for example in the case of child prostitutes.
e) Protecting young people through educating them rather than by criminalising them in the context of victimless crimes, such as in the case of some consensual sexual acts between those under 16.

4. Promoting effective alternatives to custody by:

a) Reserving the use of secure accommodation for repeat offenders, those for whom previous sentences have failed and those considered a danger to themselves or others.
b) Stopping its use for technical breaches of license, which are better dealt with by the Youth Offending Team.
c) Increasing the use of Intensive Fostering as an alternative to custody.
d) Providing stringent, intensive mental health and drug and alcohol treatment to those young people who need it.
e) Extending the use of Restorative Justice programmes such as the Northern Ireland Youth Conference System, which require the offender to confront their behaviour and make reparation.
f) Extending the use of other community sentences where possible.
g) Encouraging the devolution of custody costs so as to provide a financial incentive for Local Authorities and others to invest in community-based measures to prevent further offending.

5. Putting rehabilitation at the heart of custodial provision by:

a) Ensuring that such accommodation is as small and local as is safely feasible to ensure that young people are not institutionalised and can maintain links with their family and community.
b) Banning painful 'distraction techniques' and permitting the use of physical restraint only to prevent harm or escape.
c) Requiring local authorities to be responsible for the education of children in custody to ensure that they continue to study.
d) Implementing a targeted rehabilitation programme for offenders involved in gun, knife and gang crime.
e) Improving the provision of mental health and drug and alcohol related treatment in custody.

6. Assisting those leaving custody to re-build their lives by:

a) Ensuring that they have suitable accommodation upon release by changing Housing Benefit rules to allow provision to be made beforehand and by guaranteeing them the same entitlements as those leaving care.
b) Promoting mentoring schemes that work with the offender whilst in custody but which ensure that they can be supported upon release by, for example, having them met at the gate if they choose, taken to their new accommodation and assisted in finding work.
c) Ensuring that, save for the most serious violent or sexual offences, convictions for those who were under 18 at the time are treated as 'spent' after 12 months and need not be disclosed save for reasons of public safety or for applications for jobs involving young people or vulnerable adults.

7. Adopting a new approach to 18-24 year olds by applying some of the same proposals including, for example, the measures to divert young people from the criminal justice system, a replacement of short custodial sentences with more effective community ones and, where custody is inevitable, holding them separately from older offenders and providing effective post-release support.

8. In addition, conference is concerned about the introduction of Labour's so called 'Gangbo' as a civil Order and notes the proposals for a new Criminal Behaviour Order. Whilst welcoming the coalition government's abolition of ineffective ASBOs, conference further calls on Liberal Democrats in government to ensure that the new Order is not a mere change of label, and that no Order shall be granted without the rigorous application, as the name implies, both of the criminal rules of evidence and procedure and the criminal standards of proof.

Applicability: England and Wales, except 6 a) (lines 67-69) which is Federal.