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Croydon's young 'trapped in cycle of crime' with nearly half reoffending within a year
Gangs, drugs and the stigmatisation of offenders are trapping young people in a cycle of crime, charities have warned.
Close to half of Croydon's young offenders commit another crime within a year of receiving a conviction or caution, according to figures published by the Ministry of Justice.
Some 44.1 per cent of the borough's juvenile offenders fall back into crime with 12 months, a rise from 36.3 per cent a decade ago.
Croydon had the 17th highest rate of youth reoffending in 2011-12, the last year in which complete figures are available, within the worst ten per cent of UK areas.
While the number of under-18s committing crimes in Croydon has fallen in the last decade, the average total of previous offences per juvenile has nearly doubled from 1.68 to 3.17, raising questions about rehabilitation.
Christian Douglas, a caseworker for St Giles Trust, a charity that works with ex-offenders, said many young people "are not even given a first chance."
He said: "They are sent away and then when they come out they are expected to change, but what happens is they come out with a criminal conviction, find it difficult to get work, come out with debt or fines and housing issues, so the chances of them reoffending is very high."
Croydon-born Mr Douglas, 25, served five years in jail for robbery and applied for "well over 100 jobs" after leaving prison in 2007 before landing a role with the charity's SOS Project helping former prisoners reintegrate into society.
He said: "I was lucky that St Giles gave me a chance. A lot of young people, just having a criminal conviction means they are automatically filtered out.
"We recently met with heads of CEOs of big companies and a few of them openly said they had filtering systems in place, which they were looking to change, that filtered out some people with criminal convictions."
But SOS Project was this year forced to shut down its operations in Croydon due to funding shortages, which Mr Douglas described as "a massive loss" that could hamper work to prevent reoffending.
Launched following 2011's riots, the programme has helped more than 75 young people deemed at risk of gang involvement or violence to find work, training or accommodation.
Reformed offender and youth caseworker Christian Douglas
Peter Stanley, director of Ment4, an agency that mentors young offenders, also identified resource shortages as problematic for those working in the sector.
He said: "There are good people out there out there - family workers and social services - who will help, but typically they are very limited on the time that they can provide and that I think is a lot of the problem.
"There are lots of very frustrated people out there that can help the young person with these difficulties but just don't have the time to see them more than once a month."
Mr Stanley, whose organisation has cut reoffending rates by 87.5 per cent among the youngsters it works with, said Croydon faced particular challenges.
But he believes stay-away fathers are the primary cause of youngsters falling into crime.
He said: "Croydon is a big town with a huge mix of aflluent areas and really socially deprived areas and in some of the deprived areas it is very difficult.
"We are a very multicultural society and that can cause great benefit but it also requires great understanding and can cause language and cultural issues.
We also have some clearly identified gangs in Croydon that can exert pressure on young people living in those areas and there is a strong drug culture.
The majority of young people we see have a significant cannabis habit and that colours your whole life."
He added: "There needs to be a call for fathers to stand up and provide boundaries and affirmation for young teenagers, which is too often left to the mother.
"That might sound old-fashioned but it has been proven time and time again to be a problem."
A Croydon Council spokesman, which runs the borough's youth offending team, pointed to a drop in juvenile offending last year as evidence progress was being made.
A spokesman for Croydon Council, which runs the borough's youth offending team, said pointed to drop in juvenile offending in the last year as evidence progress was being made.
He added: "Alongside this work to reduce re-offending our youth offending service’s diversion programme deals with around 300 young people each year who have had their first contact with the law following relatively minor offences.
"By diverting these young people away from the court system and giving them help and support at the first opportunity we have significantly reduced the risk of them being involved in any further criminal activity."
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