Pubdate: Sat, 02 Oct 1999
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd
Author: Rodney Elton and Benedict Birnberg


From the President and the Chairman of The Divert Trust

Sir, No fewer than six major Criminal Justice Acts have been passed by
Parliament in the last nine years. Many of them have been announced by
Home Secretaries addressing party conferences and have fallen short of
the expectations then raised.

Now the Prime Minister himself uses the same means to promise yet
another ("Blair vows to tackle drug crime", September 27). The new
Bill, which would make refusal of bail virtually certain for arrested
persons found to be cocaine or heroin users, is to be introduced even
before the innovatory provisions for drug offenders of its massive
predecessor, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, have been implemented,
let alone tested; and once again the emphasis is to be on taking
action against crime after it has been committed.

Experience has shown that catching, convicting and imprisoning
criminals is inefficient. According to the Home Office study, Young
People and Crime (1995), one in two males and one in three females
under the age of 25 admit to committing crimes. Fewer than one in five
crimes committed are recorded, and only 3 per cent of those recorded
(ie, just over one half of 1 per cent of those committed) result in a

As the Audit Commission put it (Misspent Youth, 1998): "The criminal
justice system only deals with the tip of the iceberg." Punishment
thus only touches a tiny fraction of those involved in crime. It is
also hugely expensive. The cheapest form of custody costs more than a
place at Eton; keeping people in most secure accommodation costs more
than a room at the Ritz.

Statistics to quantify the effectiveness of action to prevent young
people becoming criminals are more difficult to construct, but the
evidence of those involved in prevention is overwhelmingly that it
works - at a fraction of the monetary cost, and with none of the
misery for the families, communities and victims. Our own experience,
as a charity whose remit is to divert young people at risk of
offending into constructive activities, bears this out.

The Home Office recognised the priority and efficacy of prevention in
the 1997 White Paper, No More Excuses, which spoke of the need to
break "the cycle of drugs and crime at an early stage". We welcome the
Government's response to this, which was to put pounds 217 million
over three years into the education, prevention and treatment of drug
users through a series of community, school and family

We would urge it to commit further resources to other preventative
efforts, not least the treatment provisions of the 1998 Act, and to
await the results of that Act before launching yet another on a
criminal justice system that needs time and resources to implement and
evaluate one major statute before assimilating another.

Yours faithfully,

The Divert Trust,
33 King Street,
London WC2E 8JD
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