London Mayor Boris Johnson youth crime rates questioned

Boris Johnson's key measure to tackle youth crime is failing to have the impact he claims, BBC London has found.

Reoffending by teenage inmates released from the mayor's "pioneering" unit at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in west London is much higher than he has previously admitted.

Last month he told MPs only 19% of youths freed from the Heron Wing had gone on to commit further offences.

The true rate is now at least 40%, Mr Johnson has confirmed.

But BBC London has been told by sources that the true rate could end up exceeding 50%.

And it has emerged the mayor's office was warned about the unreliability of data it released.

'Anecdotal evidence'

Young inmates are hand-picked for the 30-bed unit, which opened in September 2009.

Most are serving their first custodial sentence, are regarded as low-risk and have shown a "willingness to change".

Extra prison officers on the wing give them more time outside their cells and they are assigned "resettlement brokers", tasked with getting them into education, training or a job after release.

The mayor first announced the unit was having a "dramatic" impact on reoffending when he visited with the Prisons Minister Nick Herbert last November.

Image caption London's mayor Boris Johnson was warned about the unreliable nature of the figures, it has emerged

Only 10% of inmates had gone on to commit further offences, Mr Johnson claimed at the time.

But the figure was based on "anecdotal evidence" from early in the project, and City Hall was warned it was not accurate or reliable because most of the offenders had only been out for a few weeks.

The Ministry of Justice calculated official reoffending rates by tracking offenders for a year after their release from custody.

Andrew Morley, the former civil servant who ran the project, was among those concerned about misleading statements about the unit.

He told an audience at a criminal justice conference over the summer that the mayor's claims were "complete nonsense".

Even though no formal evaluation of the project will be complete until next spring, it has not stopped the mayor making unwarranted claims for its success.

Return to crime

Facing questions on his response to the recent riots, Mr Johnson told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee last month: "We cut reoffending rates in that wing from 80% to 19%.

"That is the model I think should be replicated around the country."

But after inquiries by BBC London, the mayor has confirmed the rate is now at least 40%.

"They've gone up but that doesn't invalidate the whole exercise," he said.

"You've got to ask yourself, well, is this something that is therefore to be abandoned because the reoffending rate has gone up? I don't think it is."

The rate is based on youths released between September 2009 and February 2011, only some of whom have been out for more than a year.

A full analysis, including the official reoffending rate, is not due until the spring.

According to data, 48 of the 103 young offenders released in the 12 months to July had been charged with at least one further crime.

Experts said by the time these and further cases had passed through the criminal justice system, and all offenders had been tracked for a year after release, the reoffending rate could end up well above 50%.

Inmates 'cherry-picked'

The Ministry of Justice said it did not recognise the mayor claim's that the national reoffending rate was 80% of youths who had previously been in custody. It said the figure was 73%.

The more appropriate figure by which to judge the unit's success is how many youths go on to offend after their first stint in custody.

That is just under 60% nationally. Reoffending rates at Feltham could end up close to - or even more than - that figure, experts have said.

Andrew Neilson, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the special unit appeared to be having only a "marginal" impact on reoffending, and resources should be dedicated to the most problematic inmates rather than those "cherry-picked" and low-risk.

"If you are selecting people on a willingness and motivation to change, the chances are that these are not the people committing the serious offences that really worry the public," Mr Neilsen said.

"What's the point of spending extra money on those young people?

"Surely it would be far more sensible to spend it on the young people who actually do have the needs."

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