Number of young criminals locked up nosedives

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THE number of children being locked up for crimes in our area has fallen by almost a third, The News can reveal.

Only 15 youngsters aged between 10 and 17 in Portsmouth were handed custodial sentences last year comparedwith 22 in 2009.

That works out as a 31.8 per cent drop.

And in the rest of Hampshire – excluding Southampton – 76 children were jailed, marking a 31.8 per cent fall from 116 the previous year.

The number of children convicted of crimes in Portsmouth also fell from 606 to 580, with 97 per cent of the offenders receiving community sentences.

In Hampshire 96.5 per cent of the 2,254 child offenders dealt with by the courts were spared custody.

The success is being put down to work done to help deter children from crime in the first place.

In Portsmouth, projects like the charity Motiv8 and the city council’s Preventing Youth Offending Project work with young people to reduce their chances of offending.

Preventing Youth Offending Project manager Bruce Marr said: ‘It costs a lot of money to lock a young person up and there are some excellent community-based programmes that young offenders can access in the first instance so custodial sentencing should be the last resort.’

But there are concerns that crime among the young could rise as funding is cut.

Wessex Youth Offending Team, which works with youngsters across the area, faces a £2m cut from its £8.4m budget in the next year due to the government’s spending squeeze.

The team’s performance, information and training manager Mark Owen said: ‘We are starting to make inroads and have been able to reduce the number of custodial sentences and the number of young people coming into the system.

‘It’s worrying that the funding might impact adversely.’

And he added: ‘In times of recession and economic difficulty it is well known that crime does go up.’