A NEW initiative aimed at reducing the number of young people committing crimes throughout Aberdeen has seen a 23% reduction in young people committing offences and led to a 40% reduction in the number of cases being referred to the Children’s Reporter.
The Aberdeen Youth Justice Development Programme (AYJDP) has released figures, as part of an interim report, which suggest that the introduction of the initiative has led to a wide range of improvements.
Developed as part of the national Reducing Reoffending Programme, the initiative has been funded by the Scottish Government to look at new ways to tackle offending by young people.
The scheme, which is a partnership between criminal and youth justice agencies including the local authority and voluntary sector, focuses on early and sustained intervention for young people involved in anti-social and criminal behaviour.
Assistant Chief Constable Colin Menzies, who leads the multi-agency group delivering the programme in Aberdeen, said: “The benefits generated by the programme can be clearly seen in three specific areas – improvements in the range of services for young people, better communication between agencies and as a result more efficient working practices.
“Young people are now receiving the right service, when they need it. Where it is appropriate, they are included in decisions about the support that they need.
“This greater involvement of young people, their families and the whole system approach can result in better outcomes leading to a better quality of life as opposed to the revolving door of the criminal justice system.”
Since the pilot was introduced, fewer offenders are being referred through the children’s hearings and courts system, cases are being dealt with more quickly and efficiently and in cases where a court appearance is inevitable the delay, in some cases, has been reduced from 6 months to just four weeks.
To date there have been 360 fewer referrals for offences made to the Reporter for the Children’s Panel – 684 in 2010-11 compared to 1,044 for the previous year.
Where it has been decided to report an offence only 254 children were referred to the Aberdeen City Children’s Reporter compared to 425 the previous year – a drop of 40%.
Inspector Lyn Ross, who manages the programme, added: “Although the numbers of young people involved in offending are not significant, the cost of dealing with crime is considerable, which when linked to the price of care, supervision and detention puts a huge burden on the public purse. Our aim must be to prevent and reduce reoffending at the earliest opportunity, before the behaviour becomes entrenched so that young people have the best chance of a positive future.
“Identifying the cause of offending behaviour and taking immediate direct action not only frees up resources in the criminal justice system, it can divert young people into playing a more positive role in the community they live in.”
Aberdeen city councillor and Northern Community Justice Authority member Councillor Jim Kiddie said: “The success of the programme just goes to show how much can be achieved by different agencies working closely together with a common aim.
“The reduction in the number of young people committing crimes is very heartening and will be warmly welcomed in all of our communities for whom youth offending is very serious issue.”
Councillor Anne Robertson, Convener of the Northern Community Justice Authority (NCJA), is keen to see the benefits of the city’s ‘whole system approach’ extended still further with the range of the programme broadened geographically to include Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Highlands and Islands.
She said: “There is overwhelming support and passion for this programme, and there is a real momentum to continue to develop, extend and improve on the current position. This is down the positive and effective partnership working which is key to the success so far.
“We believe that the differences created, even in such a short time scale are significant and the return to previous practices is not an option. However we must be realistic and recognise that this is a work in progress and significant effort is still required to both maintain and extend the programme.”