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Prevention and reduction

A review of strategies for intervening early to prevent or reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour

Published: May 2011


This literature review identifies the key features of early interventions that prevent or reduce youth crime or anti-social behaviour amongst young people for whom a custodial sentence may not be warranted.  It follows a call from the Ministry of Justice for greater evidence based practice.


Interventions that use counselling, especially cognitive behavioural, and skills training, are far more effective than those based on strategies of control or coercion, such as surveillance, deterrence, and discipline.

Programmes which mainly focus on deterrence or discipline can actually have the opposite effect and lead to an increase in offending behaviour.

Key to a programme’s success is how well it is implemented. A well implemented but less effective programme can outperform a more effective programme that has been poorly implemented. 

Targeted interventions aimed at young offenders or those that are at risk offending are more effective than universal programmes.

Most interventions in England use programmes that have been tried and tested or are similar to programmes that are known to be effective. In some cases this amounts to the wholesale implementation of US developed and evaluated programmes.

Some well-intentioned programmes in England borrow features from interventions that have been shown not to work. For example, Youth Inclusion Panels employ skills training and a mentoring model that have been shown to be ineffective.

The quality of evaluations needs to be improved in the UK. Ideally evaluations should  include a control group, will identify which part of the intervention work best for which people and in what circumstances and will measure objectiveyouth crime and antisocial behaviour outcomes over time.


The study draws on international evidence, predominantly from the US where the evidence base is particularly strong. We examined primary evaluative literature as well as the reviews or meta-analysis of other experts. Our understanding of the types and characteristics of interventions that were effective was then used to evaluate practice in the UK. 

Read the report