Ministry of Justice
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New programme launched to cut youth crime

A pioneering project dedicated to making London safer by helping young offenders turn their backs on crime was launched today by Justice Secretary Jack Straw and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

The Heron Unit is the UK's first dedicated resettlement unit for 15 to 17 year olds who have demonstrated a commitment to changing their criminal pasts.

It is a key part of the Mayor's youth plan 'Time for Action' and helps to deliver the government's £100 million Youth Crime Action Plan. The establishment of Heron has been delivered through the London Criminal Justice Board, a partnership which brings together criminal justice agencies in London and the Mayor's office.

Offenders referred to the Heron Unit, located inside Feltham Young Offenders Institution, will be placed on a programme designed to tackle their offending behaviour. This includes one-to-one help in finding somewhere to live; getting important life skills and finding a job. They will be prepared to make a positive contribution to their local communities when they leave custody.

At the launch today the Justice Secretary and the Mayor toured the Heron Unit and spoke to some of the young people about their experiences.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said:

‘I am delighted that so soon after launching the Youth Crime Action Plan, the government and our partners have been able to launch this initiative. It is a further step forward in the innovative approach to tackling crime which we have introduced.

‘This specialist unit will get young offenders out of the cycle of crime. By dealing with the reasons they offend while they're inside, we will keep making the community safer on the outside. We know what works – this approach is based what we’ve learned cutting crime by more than a third in the last 12 years.

‘That achievement is thanks to the hard work of police, prisons, councils, youth offending teams and other frontline services. This is a great example of that joint effort and I know everyone wants to continue building on what has already been done.’

Mayor Boris Johnson said:

‘Heron Wing is the smarter approach needed to reduce reoffending. The intensive support at Heron will provide real alternatives for young offenders and there will be no room for excuses or falling back into casual criminality. In short, the life tools and strong steer they need to get firmly back on the right track.
‘I am proud that 12 months after launching my youth plan we have now delivered a young offenders unit that is equipped to help teenagers turn their backs on crime forever.’

Andrew Morley, Chief Executive of the London Criminal Justice Board, which is coordinating the initiative, said:

‘This programme demonstrates what is possible when partners coalesce around a common objective. By working together we can specifically target these youngsters, put them through a rigorous programme designed to challenge their offending behaviour and support them to resettle back into their communities.

‘We are confident that this approach, developed on the basis of evidence and experience, is the one most likely to stop them returning to crime, and which in turn will help make London safer.’

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said:

‘Resettlement units like the Heron centre will help young offenders rebuild their lives by giving them access to training and support so that they can gain important life skills, learn about responsibility and discipline and find a job when they leave custody. This is vital to prevent reoffending and to help young people break out of the cycle of crime.

‘Through the Youth Crime Action Plan we are getting tough on the minority of young people committing offences, as well as intervening earlier to prevent young people being drawn into criminal activity and antisocial behaviour in the first place. We have put more money into family intervention projects which are successfully targeting the most vulnerable children and families, setting them clear rules and punishments, and confronting and challenging them to change their behaviour.’

Notes to editors

  1. Press release jointly issued by the Ministry of Justice and the Mayor of London.
  2. Media queries - Ministry of Justice Press Office: 020 3334 3536. Mayor of London's Press Office 020 7983 4070.

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