Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 40 of Session 2003-04, dated 12 October 2004


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today he was concerned that the proportion of young offenders given custodial sentences varies significantly across the country, and that the Youth Justice Board needs to work closely with the Courts to ensure there is sufficient space in custody and to improve confidence in community sentences.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 40th Report of this Session, which examined the delivery of custodial and higher tariff community sentences; the efforts made to address the main causes of offending behaviour; and the Youth Justice Board's role in overseeing the performance of custodial establishments and Youth Offending Teams.

In England and Wales, crime committed by young offenders accounted for around 6.5% of all crimes in 2002, and offending by young people is of concern to many communities. A small number of persistent offenders are responsible for a significant proportion of youth crime, equivalent to 28% of juvenile cases dealt with by the courts in 2002-03. The most common offences include motoring offences, theft and violence against the person, and typical characteristics of young offenders include family problems, a lack of commitment to school and poor job prospects.

Dealing with young offenders is a key priority of the Home Office. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced a number of reforms, including the introduction of a network of Youth Offending Teams across England and Wales, and a more structured approach to pre-court intervention with a two step reprimand and final warnings procedure replacing the previous practice of repeat police cautioning.

The Committee found that, of the 7% of young offenders sentenced to custody, eight out of ten re-offend, despite planned expenditure of £283 million on providing custodial sentences. Short periods of custody are unlikely to make an impact on offending behaviour, nor help offenders gain the qualifications often necessary for a change in lifestyle. If re-offending rates are to be reduced, custodial and non-custodial elements of sentences, and rehabilitation, need to be better integrated by the Youth Justice Board. The Board should review the ability of custodial establishments to tailor education to meet the needs of those offenders serving short sentences.

If community sentences are to be a credible alternative to custody, they need to be administered effectively and consistently across the country. Over half the offenders on the new 25 hour-a-week Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme fail to meet requirements, and around a quarter are re-sentenced to custody. The Board should identify why some offenders fail to complete the Programme, and review differences in the way Youth Offending Teams manage offenders on the Programme.

Effective rehabilitation is critical to reducing re-offending but Youth Offending Teams face difficulties in placing young offenders back into education, employment or suitable housing. A more joined up approach is needed between the Home Office, Department of Health, Department for Education and Skills, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and local authorities.

The average annual cost of custodial places varies significantly between providers, but no research has been undertaken as to their relative effectiveness. A secure Training Centre place (run by private contractors) costs £164,750, and a local Authority Secure Children's Home place costs £185,780, reflecting staffing ratios of 4 staff to 8 youngsters. A place at a Young Offender Institution run by the Prison Service costs £50,800, with a ratio of around 4 staff to 60 youngsters. The Youth Justice Board should commission research into each option's cost effectiveness in terms of re-offending rates and the welfare of the young person; establish a strategy for custodial provision; and carry out an opportunity cost analysis of steadily moving part of the custodial places into effective community surveillance and supervision.

The Youth Justice Board should work more closely with courts to plan the number of custodial places likely to be needed, and to enhance the Court's confidence in community sentences. The proportion of young offenders sentenced to custody varies significantly across the country. These variations may reflect a lack of suitable custodial places in some areas or a lack of confidence in, or knowledge of, community sentences delivered locally. Some Youth Offending Teams are reluctant to recommend custody in any circumstances. The Board should take action where teams fail to comply with grant conditions, including withholding grant payments where merited.

The Home Office and the Youth Justice Board need to take action to help Youth Offending Teams fill front line vacancies. Vacancy rates amongst front line staff, which were 6.5% in September 2003, must impact adversely on the effectiveness of Youth Offending Teams, and hence on the success of their work with young offenders.

Mr Leigh said today:

"The finding that eight out of ten young offenders sentenced to custody later re-offend underlines that locking up these offenders is only part of the answer.

I am concerned that the proportion of young offenders given custodial sentences varies significantly across the country. The Youth Justice Board needs to work closely with the Courts to ensure there is sufficient space in custody on the one hand and to improve the Courts' confidence in community sentences on the other.

Young offenders need effective education and training, and the Youth Justice Board needs to look again at how well some custodial establishments provide this for those on short sentences. The Board also needs to do more to make community sentences like the new Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme credible; at the moment over half the offenders on the Programme fail to complete it."


1. The Youth Justice Board, established in September 1998 as a non departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office, has been responsible for leading and supporting the implementation of the reforms in England and Wales. The Board's main aims include identifying and dealing with young offenders and reducing reoffending.

2. Youth Offending Teams receive part of their funding from the Youth Justice Board, with the majority of their funding coming from a variety of other sources including local authorities, the police and the National Probation Service.

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