‘A fifth of city youth crime is carried out by just six children – our job is to turn their lives around’

IN CHARGE Bruce Marr is in charge of Portsmouth's Preventing Youth Offending project.  Picture: Paul Jacobs (121024-2)
IN CHARGE Bruce Marr is in charge of Portsmouth's Preventing Youth Offending project. Picture: Paul Jacobs (121024-2)
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Six children were responsible for a fifth of all crimes committed by young people in Portsmouth last year, The News can reveal.

This small group of prolific young offenders aged between 10 and 17 have between them committed hundreds of crimes across the city.

OFFENCES Children who admit committing 'low level' crimes are being spared a criminal record

OFFENCES Children who admit committing 'low level' crimes are being spared a criminal record

Their identities have not been revealed by the authorities.

But the Safer Portsmouth Partnership – which consists of organisations including the police, youth offending teams, voluntary organisations and charities – is working with them in the hope of helping them turn their backs on a life of crime and build a better future.

It comes as figures show a sharp drop in young offenders entering the criminal justice system for the first time from 317 in 2009/10 to 128 last year – down 59 per cent.

At a rate of 756 crimes per 100,000 young people in Portsmouth, this is far lower than the national average of 941 crimes per 100,000 children.

Bruce Marr, project manager for Portsmouth City Council’s Preventing Youth Offending Project, is one of the many people across the city working to tackle the problem.

He said: ‘As a city council we have been successful in reducing the number of first-time entrants into the criminal justice system, so now we are focusing on the number of offenders and number of offences.

‘What we are finding at the moment is there are fewer young people offending – but there are more offences. That means there is a small group of people who are committing a large proportion of the offences.

‘Last year there were six young people who had committed 20 per cent of offences by all young people.’

Figures show 1,452 crimes in the city were committed by children last year – a 7.6 per cent drop from 1,350 the previous year.

And the number of young offenders in Portsmouth fell by 7.5 per cent from 657 to 608.

Of those, 244 children who committed a ‘low-level’ crime but admitted their guilt and were not considered to be at a high risk of reoffending avoided receiving criminal records.

Instead of being dealt with by police they were referred to youth offending teams for assessment under a new ‘triage’ scheme.

The Safer Portsmouth Partnership says it is not just about locking child criminals up – although for some this is deemed the only option, with 21 young people committing offences so serious they were handed custodial sentences last year.

It says it is about helping to put measures in place to reduce the risk of young people reoffending.

This includes helping a young person find accommodation, find out who they are mixing with, as well as giving them activities to keep them occupied.

The partnership also says it is about education and giving young people training opportunities to improve their job prospects.

Mr Marr said they were identifying those responsible for committing the most crimes.

‘We do as much as we can to divert them and keep them occupied,’ he says.

‘They all have complex needs themselves and have risk factors that increase the likelihood of offending.

‘These include their family, school, community and personal circumstances.

‘It’s about looking at what protective factors are in place to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

‘Just because a child lives in a high crime area doesn’t mean they will commit crime.

‘We look at if they have other activities to keep them occupied, are they doing well at school, do they mix with positive friendships rather than negative friendships and things like do they have to be in at a certain time of night.’

The Safer Portsmouth Partnership has also taken steps to highlight the potentially life-changing consequences of shoplifting among young people after figures revealed it is still the most commonly committed crime by children.

Last year theft and handling were still the most common type of offence for young men, accounting for 29 per cent of all crimes committed by boys in the city.

Of those 29 per cent – 75 offences – were for shoplifting.

Theft and handling accounted for 24 per cent of the crimes committed by young women, with 63 per cent of those – 34 crimes – being shoplifting offences.

The partnership says more shoplifting offences which were considered ‘low-level’ crimes were dealt with via the new ‘triage’ system.

However more than two thirds – 70 per cent – of referrals to the triage scheme for girls were for shoplifting, compared to only 29 per cent for boys.

The partnership has put together a DVD called Shoplifting Can Ruin Your Life in a bid to reduce shoplifting offences committed by young people. It is used at secondary schools across Portsmouth to warn young people against stealing from shops.

Working to ‘Motiv8’ young people to improve their lives

CHARLIE Adie is chief executive of the Motiv8 South charity, which tries to improve young people’s lives.

He works with some of the most prolific young criminals in the hope of steering them away from crime.

Mr Adie said: ‘The thing we are now focusing on is the small number of quite prolific offenders for two reasons.

‘One it will make Portsmouth a safer, better place, and two, it’s good news for that young person.

‘If we can work with them to put protective factors to stop their criminality escalating we can hopefully stop them from ending up going to a young offenders’ institution.

‘A young offenders’ institution is prison and while for some individuals that will be the final sanction and the appropriate sanction, if we can do some intensive work to prevent things from getting to that point, it’s a good news story and it’s cheaper for the taxpayer because it’s more cost effective.

‘For a young person who’s referred to Motiv8 for targeted support, typically that person might receive five hours of support a week. If a young person is referred to Motiv8 for intensive support they will receive about 25 hours of support a week. The issues are specific to these young people but much more often than not they include housing and training related issues, rather than just dealing with behaviour and attitude.

‘By the time you have got to the point of a person being a prolific young offender, chances are there are more issues than that and they are more complex.’

QUICK JUSTICE

A TOTAL of 244 children who committed offences considered ‘low-level’ and admitted their guilt were last year spared a criminal record.

Instead they were referred to specialist teams who worked with them to find ways of reducing the likelihood of them reoffending.

Just under half of the children referred to the ‘triage’ system – 112 – were guilty of shoplifting, which is still the crime most commonly committed by young people in Portsmouth.

Other offences included criminal damage and assault.

Thanks to the ‘triage’ scheme the number of children who received criminal records dropped by a massive 40 per cent to 364 from 605 the previous year.

The scheme was first piloted in Portsmouth city centre from December 2009 and has now been rolled out across our area.

Since January last year police issued new guidance to their officers which means the scheme includes young people who could otherwise have received a reprimand or final warning – which would have gone on their record.

Each young offender must admit to committing the crime. If not they will instead be dealt with by the police.

Bruce Marr, project manager for the Preventing Youth Offending Project in Portsmouth, said: ‘They have to admit guilt.

‘If they don’t, they go through the police processes.

‘If they do admit guilt the police agree not to prosecute and they are referred to triage. Usually a reprimand or a final warning are the first two consequences depending on the level of the offence, before they go through the court system.

‘They are still deemed as offences and they can still affect your ability to gain employment but they are not held on your record for life.

‘The idea of the triage is you get no criminal record at all.

‘You are offered three sessions which look at the consequences of offending, and the [impact on] the victim.

‘The crucial thing is it must be a low-level offence.’

He added: ‘They are not getting away with it because they are clearly being told the consequences.

‘By attending the group session they are made very aware that if they do offend again we know who they are.

‘The later we prevent them getting into the criminal justice system the earlier, research shows, they stop offending.’