SCOTLAND's chief constable believes police can make things worse by "lifting" youngsters who are trying to avoid a life of crime.

Sir Stephen House has backed revolutionary new youth work diverting teenagers - some already with serious histories of offending - from underworld careers.

But, as he did so, he admitted his officers sometimes counter-productively throw young people back into the court system under outstanding warrants just as they made progress.

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His remarks, warmly welcomed by his force's civilian partners, came at a conference on an embryonic project by charity Action for Children, first revealed in 2012, to divert potential gangsters from a life of crime.

Sir Stephen said: "I don't think anyone in Police Scotland thinks for one minute the solution to youth involvement in organised crime is more arrests, more ­incarcerations, then more repeat arrests, more repeat incarcerations.

"We cannot arrest our way out of the problem of youngsters going into organised crime."

Sir Stephen also said that the role of enforcement needed to be carried out with care.

The chief constable warned that agencies needed to "work on their communication", citing the risk of police finding an old warrant for somebody involved in a scheme to go straight and then ending up back in court. "That is not very helpful," he said, citing experience from working with domestic abuse offenders.

He said: "If we have got some perpetrators who are going through a voluntary scheme to try to correct their aberrant behaviour the last thing we need to do is descend on them at four or five in the morning to take them back in to custody.

"That takes them backwards by months and makes them think what is the point. We need to think about how that works in partnership with other agencies."

These agencies increasingly include the third sector. Since last year, Action for Children's Paul Carberry has sat on the organised crime task force chaired by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

He leads on Divert, the element of government strategy designed to deny new footsoldiers to Scotland's more than 200 crime groups and their £2bn a year business.

His project with young would-be underworld figures remains embryonic and has only been under way for two years. It is so sensitive even its name is kept under wraps.

But senior officers and policymakers, including Mr MacAskill, are paying attention to its combination of headhunted professionals and peer mentors. There are proposals for an independent evaluation and a nationwide roll-out.

Their interest stems from an increasing understanding that law enforcement has missed opportunities to divert youngsters in the past.

Half of the eight so-called "prominent nominals" in Scottish prisons - underworld leaders - also served sentences 20 years ago.