COMMONS

MPs publish report on youth justice

14 March 2013

The Youth Justice System is currently failing children in care and care leavers and there should be more effort to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of these vulnerable young people, the Justice Committee has concluded. 

The Chair of the Committee, Sir Alan Beith MP, said:

“We were shocked by evidence we heard that vulnerable children across the UK are effectively being abandoned by children’s and social services.

“Public authorities have a duty to ensure looked after children are not at greater risk of being drawn into the criminal justice system than other children simply because they do not live in family homes. Poor behaviour which would be dealt with within the family should not be an express route into the criminal justice system for children who do not have the benefit of a normal family life.

“We heard one example of the police being called to a children’s home to investigate a broken cup. The relevant authorities must also continue to provide support to looked after children and care leavers when they are in, and when they leave, custody.”

The Committee welcomes the substantial decrease since 2006/07 in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time but is concerned that looked after children have not benefited from this shift to the same extent as other children.

Recommendations

The Committee recommends:

  • That local authorities, children’s homes and prosecutors have appropriate strategies in place to prevent looked after children from being criminalised for trivial incidents which would never come to police attention if they took place in family homes, including more widespread use of restorative justice.
  • More and better co-ordinated support for looked after children and care leavers in custody, including extending the commitment to fund social workers in young offenders institutions.

The Youth Justice Board has done excellent work to halve the youth custodial population over the past decade but continues to spend £246 million a year detaining a small fraction of young offenders, the inquiry found.

The Chair of the Committee, Sir Alan Beith MP, said:

“Youth custody should only be used in cases of genuine last resort.

“Only a tiny proportion of young offenders given a court disposal last year were sentenced to custody, but two-thirds of the Youth Justice Board’s budget was spent on youth detention.

“More of this money needs to be spent on early intervention with young children at risk of offending, on restorative justice approaches and on intensive alternatives to custody with higher risk offenders, such as multi-systemic therapy and Intensive Fostering. 73% of young offenders sentenced to custody go on to reoffend.

“We are pleased that the Government is considering ways of building on the success of the Board and local partnerships and have made some recommendations which we think would help to cement these gains.”

These recommendations include:

  • A statutory threshold to enshrine in legislation the principle that only the most serious and prolific young offenders should be placed in custody;
  • Devolving the custody budget to enable local authorities to invest in effective alternatives to custody; and
  • More action to reduce the number of young people who breach the terms of their community sentences and the number of young black men in custody.

The Committee endorses the Secretary of State’s aim of improving the basic literacy of offenders, as outlined in the Transforming Youth Custody consultation paper issued in February, but it is not convinced that it is most useful to focus resources on the secure estate, given that the average length of stay is currently 79 days. The greater focus, it argues, should be on improving transition between custody and the community, and on improving provision in the community and incentivising schools and colleges to take back difficult students.

The binary re-offending rate has remained stubbornly around 33-35% over the past decade. The Committee makes a number of further recommendations in its wide-ranging report but asks the Government to focus in particular on the need for better data about which interventions work best to prevent offending and re-offending; and for providing suitable accommodation for young offenders on release from custody, without which it will be impossible to make significant reductions to the re-offending rate.

Further information

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