06 February 2004
Britain's commissioner for correctional services has strongly denied MPs' accusations that the treatment of youth offenders is a costly, ineffective failure.
Speaking at a meeting of the Commons' Public Accounts Committee on February 2, organised in the wake of a critical National Audit Office report, Martin Narey admitted that the challenge in treating young offenders was 'overwhelming'.
But he claimed new methods of punishing and rehabilitating youngsters, such as the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme, were working, despite the costs.
The NAO report, The delivery of community and custodial sentences, found that detaining youngsters in secure homes costs around £185,000 per child. Detaining offenders in custody cost the Youth Justice Board around two-thirds of its £394m budget for 2003/04.
Committee members were concerned that resources were being drained away from other local agencies, such as policing, education and social services.
Earlier, PAC chair Edward Leigh told Narey that the NAO report, which also exposed high rates of re-offending among youngsters, made 'depressing reading' because it implied most punishments were ineffective.
Referring to the preference of local justice agencies to opt for community-based punishments, Leigh claimed: 'It has been said in the past that you are running a university of crime, but now it seems you're merely running a distance-learning programme.'
But Narey said: 'The NAO report was encouraging, because it recognised we are doing a job in difficult circumstances.'