16% rise in hardcore of young criminals

THE justice minister, Cathy Jamieson, was embroiled in a row with police chiefs yesterday over targets she has set for cutting youth crime statistics.

The dispute comes after it emerged there had been a rise in the number of persistent young offenders being referred to the children's hearing system. Police say the increase is an inevitable result of them clamping down on youth crime and claim Ms Jamieson's stated target of cutting the number of such cases is pointless.

But the minister appeared to blame the figures on police and other authorities, who she said were not doing enough to tackle young offenders. She insisted she still expected future targets for cutting the number of persistent young offenders to be met.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Figures released by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration revealed that 1,388 persistent young offenders were recorded in 2005-6 - up 10 per cent on the previous year's figure of 1,260 and 16 per cent higher than 1,201 in 2003-4. Ms Jamieson had set police, councils and other agencies a target of reducing persistent young offenders by 10 per cent by March this year, based on the 2003-4 figure.

But police insisted that this year's rise shows they are tackling the problem and that, rather than getting worse, youth crime is actually falling. One police source said there was a growing rift between the minister, police and councils. He said: "Cathy Jamieson cannot have it both ways. She is accusing us of not cracking down on young offenders, while also blaming us when the figures show that more young offenders are being caught and dealt with.

"The target set to cut the number of persistent young offenders wasn't based on anything. She plucked a figure out of the air and ended up with a noose around her neck."

Assistant Chief Constable Maureen Brown, spokeswoman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland on youth justice, said independently-verified figures showed that youth offending fell 12 per cent between April-December 2005, compared with the previous year. More youth crimes were also being solved, she said.

But responding the rising figure, Ms Jamieson said: "Too many areas are still not delivering the necessary improvements ... and are not progressing towards nationally agreed standards of performance, particularly in terms of persistent young offenders."

The minister said efforts will be made to ensure authorities that are "off the pace" can learn from others.

She called for a redoubling of efforts to deal with the minority of youths who repeatedly threaten the peace and safety of their local communities, and said she still expected to achieve this year's 10 per cent target - and a further 10 per cent reduction - in time for the next target date of 2008.

The number of children and young people referred to the children's reporter on offence grounds increased by 7 per cent from 16,470 to 17,624 between 2003-4 and 2005-6.