Latest research suggests a significant proportion of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) are failing to fund youth crime prevention programmes, despite assuming control of money previously spent on tackling offending by young people.
The survey of youth offending teams (YOTs) by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Youth Justice Board (YJB) found that just 59 per cent said PCCs fund youth crime prevention initiatives in their area.
In addition, just 11 per cent of respondents said PCCs were the largest funder of prevention work, while two-thirds reported using their own budget for it.
The survey shows most YOT prevention work is targeted at young people involved in antisocial behaviour or who have been referred from their local Troubled Families programme. This could involve offering one-to-one support for troubled children.
Other areas of prevention work include educating young people who are displaying risk-taking or aggressive behaviour about the dangers and consequences involved.
Jacob Tas, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, says the findings are "disappointing".
"This risks leaving many disadvantaged young people without the vital support they need to either prevent offending in the first instance or to move away from crime and avoid reoffending," he says. "We urgently need a preventative approach working in partnership to avoid young people entering the youth justice system."
Commissioners have been responsible for local policing since November 2012, taking charge of large pots of public money, including some that previously went straight to YOTs to spend on prevention work. However, they are under no obligation to fund YOTs' youth crime prevention work.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners says the fact PCCs are the second highest funder of youth crime prevention reflects their expanding role in tackling offending by young people (see expert view).
However, amid shrinking funding for YOTs - the 153 teams in England had a budget of £67m in 2016/17, down 12 per cent on 2015/16 - youth justice experts have called for PCCs to do more to fund youth crime prevention.
For this to happen, commissioners should be made a statutory partner of YOTs, says Lesley Tregear, chair of the Association of YOT Managers (AYM).
"Their [PCCs] funding to YOTs is inconsistent; some grant all the funding previously provided to YOTs from the Home Office, others provide some or no funding," she says.
"If PCCs are to be truly effective in supporting crime prevention, consideration should be given to them being included as statutory partners to YOTs, funding prevention as well as other identified elements of work."
Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, YOTs have a number of statutory partners, including the Youth Justice Board, local authorities and probation, that they must work with to prevent offending.
Tas also believes that PCCs could play a pivotal role in improving co-ordination of local youth crime prevention work.
"Commissioners are ideally placed to deliver a co-ordinated approach to youth crime in communities, creating partnerships and networks with organisations that have a stake in reducing youth crime," he says.
"Local networks would focus upon ensuring that the right support for young people is in place, as well as a shared understanding of the specific issues affecting young people, ranging from emotional, physical and sexual abuse, to neglect, bullying and bereavement, in order to tackle the root causes."
Tregear says YOTs' success in cutting first-time entrants to the system "proves the impact of their prevention activities".
However, with councils and justice bodies facing shrinking budgets, she warns there is a danger YOTs' prevention work "could be reduced" with potentially dire consequences.
PCC View: Commissioners are going beyond their brief to prevent youth offending
By David Lloyd, Hertfordshire police and crime commissioner, and chair of the Association of PCCs
The best way to reduce the level of youth crime is to intervene early to prevent children and young people offending in the first place.
Most youth crime prevention initiatives are run by YOTs, with funding from the Youth Justice Board. However, despite PCCs being introduced only five years ago, this survey reveals that we are already the second most commonly reported source of funding cited by YOTs for such initiatives. This reflects how PCCs are expanding their brief and working effectively to drive change beyond policing.
In Hertfordshire, I have invested in various schemes that support young people. These include tailored mentoring for those at risk of falling into criminal behaviour to provide education on gangs, alcohol, drugs and solvent abuse.
These schemes aim to reduce antisocial behaviour through initiatives involving sport and technology education. There are also projects that support teenagers who are in care, or who may care for others.
I believe that initiatives such as these are a great way to empower young people. They are happening against a backdrop of fewer young people becoming involved in crime: in Herefordshire, we've seen a decrease of over 50 per cent in children and young being given disposals by the courts or the police since 2011/12. These trends have also been mirrored nationally."