Steering Away From Crime

As students everywhere settle into a new term, a scheme is also on offer for young people caught drug-dealing in Bristol, who are being offered the chance to access job training, driving lessons and even gym membership rather than being charged and hauled before a court.

Avon and Somerset police say the pilot scheme is the only one of its kind in the country and is designed to divert youngsters away from gangs, prison and a possible life of crime.

If the scheme works and is extended, hundreds of youngsters on the fringe of a life in crime could be saved from prison. The programme of activities includes access to workshops, motivational speaking events and one-to-one mentoring.

The Prison Reform Trust reports that high numbers of children who offend have health, education and social care needs, which, if not met at an early age, can lead to a lifetime of declining health and worsening offending behaviour, with significant long term costs to the taxpayer, and to the victims of these crimes.

It is hoped that putting such young people on a rigorous six- to nine-month course, rather than charging them, could lead to them getting apprenticeships or jobs and divert them from crime, and offer them the kind of opportunities that most young people can access as teenagers.

The scheme recognises that young people who make a wrong choice can risk this defining the rest of their lives. Offering an opportunity for mentoring and positive activity instead of the usual punishments can break the cycle of crime and tackle the root causes behind young people falling into criminal activity.

If this scheme proves successful, we hope it will be extended to Devon and Cornwall.