New child checks to identify future criminals

Philip Johnston
LondonTelegraph
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The main proposals

Checks will be made on all children to identify potential criminals under a further extension of the "surveillance state" announced by Tony Blair today.

A Downing Street review of law and order policy also called for greater use of sophisticated CCTV, an expanded DNA database and "instant justice" powers for police.

The review is intended to chart a course ahead for the next 10 years by focusing more "on the offender, not the offence."

Most crime is committed by a small number of prolific offenders who could be identified almost from birth, ministers believe. After 10 years concentrating on tougher sentences, the review paper said it wanted to tackle the "underlying causes..through better targetting."

Vulnerable children and those at risk will be identified by "trigger" factors such as parents in jail or on drugs. They will be subject to personalised measures, including home visits from specialist practitioners. But the Government says the net should be cast as widely as possible "to prevent criminality developing."

It proposes to "establish universal checks throughout a child’s development to help service providers to identify those most at risk of offending." The document added: "These checks should piggyback on existing contact points such as the transition to secondary schools."

The plan will be beacked up by a new database for all children due to be up and running by 2008. It will contain basic information identifying the child and its parents and will have a "facility for practitioners to indicate to others that they have information to share, are taking action, or have undertaken an assessment, in relation to a child.”

The database was ostensibly proposed to prevent another tragic death such as that of Victoria Climbie but now appears to be the basis for cradle-to-adult monitoring. It is not clear when data will be erased from the database.

The Government believes children can be prevented from becoming offenders if early intervention is targeted at those who displayed certain behaviours. These include having a short attention span or behaving aggressively or living in a difficult or deprived environment.

Some children who show signs of becoming criminals are logged and monitored by dozens of early interventions schemes. Those aged 8-13 may be referred to a Youth Inclusion and Support Panel if they are thought to be potential offenders and data about them is held on an information system.

Other agencies target 50 children and young people thought most 'at risk’ of offending, truancy or social exclusion.

Mr Blair said the main aim of policy was to tackle the “hard core” of 100,000 criminals who, he said, commit about half of all crimes in England and Wales. Career criminals would be subject to prolific offender licences, punishable by three years’ jail if broken, which would impose a range of restrictions on their activities.

“They are not an alternative to prison. They are in addition to prison,” Mr Blair said when he launched the review at a conference in Westminster. “But we have to ensure that, when people leave prison, they do not rebound straight back in."

He added: “These people have serious problems and targeting the offender means taking those problems seriously.

“If we want a criminal justice system that works, we have to target the offender and not simply the offence.”

Other measures include tougher community sentences and special units for mentally ill prisoners, where drug treatment would be available.

The Home Office also announced a review of policing to be carried out by Sir Ronnie Fanagan. the chief inspector of constabulary. He will try to find ways to cut red tape, make the police more accessible to the public and give forces greater say over their budgets.

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