Crime – A Challenge to Us All :Chaired by Lord Longford

Labour Party Study Group (1964) Crime – a challenge to us all: report of the Labour Party Study Group (Chairman: Lord Longford) London: Labour Party

This report, prepared not long before the Labour election victory in 1964 covers more than just child care matters but it set the tone for many of the debates in the 1960s and many of its recommendations were eventually turned into law. So, though not in one sense a key child care text, it is a key text for understanding the other key child care texts of the era.

Key points

  • Poor people are more vulnerable and likely to receive harsher treatment from the criminal justice system.
  • Most people found guilty are under 25 and the highest proportion is found among those 14-17 years old.
  • There should be a Family Service, backed up by Family Advice Centres, to support families.
  • There should be Family Courts to deal with all family matters including young people up to 18, except for those charged with homicide.
  • There should be Youth Courts for young people 18-21.
  • The age of criminal responsibility should be raised.
  • Junior and intermediate approved schools should be merged with special schools, senior approved schools with other criminal justice institutions and girls’ approved schools with children’s homes.
  • There should be improvements to the police service and police procedures, some of which were long overdue.
  • Court procedure should be streamlined.
  • There should be more non-custodial sentences.
  • Conditions in existing prisons should be improved rather than just building new ones.
  • There should be a comprehensive after-care service linked to the community.
  • Non-custodial sentences should be given to the majority of women offenders.
  • Provision should be made for children to be with their mothers in prison.
  • The Home Office should be reorganised.
  • In the Introduction, Lord Longford writes that they were appointed in December 1963 “to advise the Labour Party on the recent increase in recorded crime, the present treatment of offenders, and the new measures, penal or social, required to assist in the prevention of crime and to improve and modernise our penal practices”.
  • Their proposals are:
  • to set up a family service,
  • to raise the age of criminal responsibility,
  • to make juvenile court principles apply to 21,
  • to strengthen the police,
  • to improve administration,
  • to abolish capital punishment,
  • for statutory compensation to victims of crimes of violence,
  • for constructive sentencing to prevent re-offending and promote rehabilitation,
  • to make prisons places of social learning,
  • to extend the use of hostels,
  • for comprehensive after-care,
  • for greater use of voluntary service.


In Chapter 1 Justice with mercy, they argue for the reciprocal obligations of the citizen and of society but say that there are still gaps in the welfare state, especially poverty and squalor, that the poor are more vulnerable, that there is a problem with an acquisitive society and that there is differential treatment of working class and Oxbridge vandals.

They dismiss the argument that there are ‘criminal types’ and argue in favour of prevention and the rehabilitation of offenders.

In Chapter 2 The pattern of crime, they point out that ‘indictable’ and ‘summary’ no longer refer to the seriousness of the offence. But indictable offences are recorded by the police even if there is no prosecution whereas summary offences are only recorded if there is a prosecution. These figures are only the tip of the iceberg; families and employers may not report offences and local initiatives may distort the figures.

90% of offences are committed against property and 5% against the person; most of those found guilty are under 25 with young people aged 14-17 most likely to be convicted and those aged 17-21 next most. They argue that the number of offences has gone up because of the post-war baby bulge but the proportion of those committing offences has dropped because ‘pre-bulge’ children born 1938-1944 were “markedly more delinquent as a group than their predecessors” (p. 9). However, one should note that 95% of young people never appear in court.

They note that motoring offences are taken less seriously than property offences and so motoring offences involving alcohol are much less likely to lead to charges than offences involving alcohol when people are on foot. The overall volume of crime has declined since the 19th century and it is now mostly an urban problem because that is where there are more cars and more shops. But there is a need for research in order to tackle crime at its roots through understanding those factors which predispose people to crime and what are likely to be successful methods of reform.

In Chapter 3 Forestalling delinquency, they blame the Tories for tampering with the welfare state. The Central Advisory Council for Education (England) (1963) had reported that half of all children in the 13-16 year age group lacked full access to education and that disabled children were not being catered for properly. Young people, especially in Scotland, the North East and Merseyside did not have access to satisfactory work and over half a million children under 16 and 5,000 over 16 were on National Assistance.

In order to provide children with a happy and secure family life there needed to be a Family Service to supplement the powers given to local authorities under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963, to manage disability services and to support unmarried mothers through Family Advice Centres supported by comprehensive family services.

In Chapter 4 Importance of early treatment, they stress that there are various reasons for anti-social behaviour but that a Family Service would be able to support families and provide reception and observation homes as well as special units for violent and disturbed children “in a setting of closer security and in the care of people with special skill and experience” (p. 22).

The Family Service would work on the basis of voluntary agreements between them and families but there would be Family Courts for those cases where such agreements were not practical. These would deal with issues involving:

  • care, protection and control of children and young people under 18,
  • offending by young people 15-18 years old,
  • neglect or cruelty,
  • school attendance,
  • adoption,
  • affiliation,
  • consent to marry under the Marriage Act 1949,
  • domestic proceedings,
  • the custody of children,
  • domestic violence,
  • property disputes under the Married Women’s Property Act.
  • The age of criminal responsibility would be raised and everything but homicide would be dealt with in Family Courts. For young people up to 21 there would be Young People’s Courts. They note that the Children and Young Person’s (Scotland) Act 1937 had not made juvenile courts mandatory in Scotland and only five had been set up.
  • They foresaw a need for separate remand centres and a need to rethink Detention Centres; there was now also an overlap between Borstal and approved school since the Criminal Justice Act 1961 had lowered the age for Borstal to 15 and reduced Borstal training from three to two years.
  • They envisaged improvements to Youth Employment and Youth Services and also the need for a Sports Development Council and for more voluntary service opportunities for young people both in this country and abroad.
  • They recommended integrating junior and intermediate boys’ approved schools with other special schools under the Family Service but considering the senior boys schools in relation to other offender institutions. The girls approved schools should be seen as part of care and protection since nearly two-thirds of their residents were non-offenders.
  • In Chapter 5 Combating crime and enforcing the law, they argue for measures to prevent police wastage and to reduce authoritarian management. There should be more traffic wardens and the police service should recruit more graduates. There should be a new procedure for handling complaints and the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Police Powers and Procedures 1929 should be implemented.
  • There should be a standard instruction book, the power of arrest without warrant should be codified, there should be more women police and there should be a ban on police officers advising anyone in custody how to plead.
  • The words ‘Police Court’ should be removed from buildings where magistrates’ courts are held and police officers should no longer be used as ushers; there should be training courses for lay magistrates and Judges’ Rules should become part of a Criminal Evidence Act.
  • Since 17,000 people a year are remanded but not sentenced to custody, reasons should be given in writing for refusal of bail and defendants informed about their right to apply for bail to a judge in chambers. Bail itself needs to be overhauled, something which has not happened since the Summary Jurisdiction Bill 1879.
  • Committal needs to be simplified to:
  • is there a prima facie case?
  • what is the case to be answered in full trial?

Any report of committal proceedings should to be restricted to name, charge and decision of the court. Legal aid should be extended to before the first hearing and to appeals; a legal advice service is also needed in prisons.

The Court of Criminal Appeal should be part of the Court of Appeal and more resources need to be put into publishing its proceedings more rapidly. There need to be law commissioners to review the law.

Victims of criminal violence should be compensated and capital punishment abolished.

In Chapter 6 Negative punishment and positive reform, they note that Prison Rule 1 says, “The purpose of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage and assist them to lead a good and useful life” (p. 42). There is however a gap between theory and practice. There needs to be reform in sentencing policy and a Parole Board.

The Interdepartmental Committee on the Business of the Criminal Courts (1961) had argued that “every sentence should be based on comprehensive and reliable information which is relevant to the objectives which the court has in view”. For this reason the Probation Service should be strengthened and greater emphasis placed on observing prisoners on remand.

Two-thirds of prison sentences were currently awarded by magistrates, many of whom were ignoring the First Offenders Act 1958 and sending people to prison. There were also civil prisoners and those who had been arrested after demonstrations and could be called ‘political’ prisoners. Probation should be preferred to prison along with conditional discharge or suspended sentences.

The 1959 prison building programme had envisaged eight new high security prisons but there was a need for more open prisons, their design was old fashioned and there would be no replacements for Victorian prisons where there was still slopping out. Among the changes to the prison service, there needed to be:

  • more education and social training,
  • decentralisation,
  • an update to the Prison Rules to introduce a privilege system and to allow MPs letters through unaltered,
  • improvements to food, clothing and personal equipment,
  • improvements to prison medical care, including integration with the NHS.

They commended the 1963 statement by the Prison Officers Association The role of the modern prison officer, arguing they should become integral members of the ‘welfare team.’ They argued for improved working conditions and earnings, better staffing, improved facilities and real work in prisons.

They also argued for extending hostels and, where prisoners were earning real earnings, to take a deduction to compensate victims.

They argued that compulsory and voluntary after-care should be merged to create a network of professional aftercare workers in prison and in the community and that there should be greater involvement of communities in rehabilitation. Prison officers should be involved in first line welfare work which would be supplemented by work by specialists.

These proposals would result in an expanded Probation Service which should be managed by a Director of Probation and After-care with an Independent Board, a Central Advisory Council and Regional After-care Committees.

In 1962 there had been 814 women in prison and 182 girls in Borstal; 353 had been sent to prison by higher courts and 1,486 (including 125 17-21 year olds) by magistrates; yet only 336 of the 1839 prison sentences had been for over 6 months and only 70 of those for over two years. Women were mostly accommodated in makeshift accommodation and, apart from elderly recidivists, would be better served by probation or parole with support from the Family Service. So there should be more hostels for women and accommodation for children whose mothers are in prison. There should at most be one small maximum security unit for women. The liability of prison officers to transfer should be abolished to encourage recruitment to women’s prisons.

There was still the need for more research in these areas.

In Chapter 7 New driving force needed, they argue that the Home Office needed to be reorganised, among other things by transferring out some departments and adding another Minister of State. There should be greater interdepartmental cooperation and greater recruitment and training of staff.

They note the Home Office statement of 10 November 1963 announcing changes to social work training including:

1.    the expansion of post-graduate courses for social science and other graduates,

2.    the four year sandwich courses at Bradford and Bristol,

3.    two year courses for over 25 year-olds,

4.    courses for trainee social workers for people not old enough to start training,

5.    the training of residential staff in pre-service, in-service and refresher courses,

6.    the development of careers publicity for social work,

7.    a reappraisal of training grants,

8.    in-service training for specialist social work,

9.    a proposal to review the Advisory Committees.

In Chapter 8, Who is my neighbour? they argue that there is a need for positive prevention of crime and enlightened treatment of offenders before summarising their principal recommendations.


Whether or not they knew it, their opening point, that the law descends more harshly on the poor, had been made over a century earlier by Mary Carpenter (1853) and was to be made nearly half a century later by Sanders and Young (2007) who also highlight the leniency with which motoring offences are treated compared with those involving, in particular young, pedestrians.

Their interpretation from the figures for the 1950s that those born 1938-44 had been markedly more criminal than those born after the end of the Second World War may reflect a trend to increasing punitiveness in the 1950s which was to manifest itself in the remainder of the century as a tenfold increase in the number of people charged with indictable offences (Butler and Butler, 2000), even though there had been no corresponding increase in crime.

They were right to call for more research but it was to be another decade before significant research had been published against which to evaluate their proposals; for example, Rutter (1971) was to show that most anti-social behaviour was associated with being in an unhappy family and that reducing a family’s unhappiness, even if it did not become happy, would reduce the amount of anti-social behaviour. So the idea of a Family Service which would help families to resolve their difficulties in positive ways now looks like just the thing to prevent a lot of juvenile offending. However, it may not have achieved its aim because Davie et al. (1972) showed that, the lower the social class of the family, the less likely they were to make use of such services.

The proposal for a Family Service was also based on the assumption that delinquency is caused by deprivation. This may have arisen in part because of the experiences of special reception centres, which took younger children on remand and held them alongside children in need of care and protection. Packman (1968) was to report that these delinquents were no different from other children in need but this was probably because removing them from their families removed them from the cause of their anti-social behaviour. Delinquents are predominantly delinquents because of what is going on in the present, not what may have gone on in the past.

Similarly, deprivation is better dealt with by changing the long term circumstances within which children live rather than by short term interventions (Clarke and Clarke, 1976). So the Study Group’s recommendations for improving youth services and sports facilities might have been more effective ways of dealing with areas of high deprivation had they ever been implemented.

The Children and Young Persons Act 1963 had raised the age of criminal responsibility to ten that year – not twelve as proposed by the Curtis Committee nearly twenty years earlier (Care of Children Committee, 1946); however, by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 the Labour Government removed the presumption doli incapax from cases involving ten to fourteen year-olds (Allen, 2006), thereby going back on the approach this group had advocated nearly thirty-five years earlier. Similarly, the Study Group’s arguments for reducing the use of remand appear to have fallen on deaf ears (Gibbs and Hickson, 2009).

The proposals for approved schools reflected widespread misunderstanding of those being cared for in the schools. The proposal to merge junior and intermediate approved schools with other special schools probably reflected the misguided view that anti-social behaviour was caused by deprivation rather than family discord; the proposal to merge senior approved schools with senior detention centres and borstal likewise arose from ignorance as to who was going to senior approved schools. These were a combination of first offenders and young people suffering from profound social disadvantages (Millham et al., 1975); the second group may have been the same group of boys that Hoghughi (1978) later identified as ending up in secure accommodation –  boys who were more ‘odd’ than any of the other children in Aycliffe.

The proposal to deal with girls within the children’s home system had been made by the Curtis Committee (Care of Children Committee, 1946) and, since the girls’ approved schools predominantly held non-offenders, this looked a reasonable idea. Yet the girls’ approved schools were continuing to have the same high success rates as they had had forty years earlier (Rose, 1967).

So were girls’ needs sacrificed in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 in order to change the ways in which boys’ needs were met? Granted the general argument that non-custodial disposals are more appropriate for most women offenders (Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, 2004), would it not have been better to have reduced the number of girls’ approved schools but not to have abolished them all – in line with the group’s recommendation for women’s prisons?

The Study Group’s argument for improving the conditions in existing prisons rather than building new ones was to be strongly vindicated in relation to the experience of secure units for children (Cawson and Martell, 1979; Blumenthal, 1985). However, their arguments for a comprehensive after-care service were later to be undermined by the finding that, as least in relation to children, after-care services may have an adverse effect on rehabilitation and the most effective rehabilitation occurs when there is parental involvement throughout the placement (Taylor and Alpert, 1973). So it would have been more sensible to link the proposal for a Family Service with a proposal to support the families of those in all types of institution to maintain contact with those in institutions.


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