More children are imprisoned in England and Wales than any other
European country, despite home office statistics showing youth
crime has fallen between 1993 and 2000, writes Clare
Powers originally designed to deal only with very serious youth
crime such as murder and manslaughter are used inappropriately,
according to a report from rehabilitation agency Nacro.
It points to certain circumstances where a 10-year-old child
convicted of handling stolen goods can now be tried in an adult
crown court, and sentenced to a lengthy period in custody.
“Practice in England and Wales is out of step, by some margin,
with that in much of Europe,” the report says.
The current system for dealing with children who have committed
the most serious offences is overly legalistic, the process leads
to punitive outcomes and the extent of long-term detention does not
comply with Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the
Rights of the Child, it says.
Nacro calls for a limit to the length of sentences passed in
such cases as well as a reduction in the number of offences dealt
with as grave crimes. The report calls for the creation of
specialised youth courts with judges and magistrates trained to
respond to the needs of children.
Lord Alex Carlile, chairperson of Nacro’s committee on
children and crime, said: “A child is considered to young to drink
alcohol or to consent to having a tattoo. No child is considered
responsible enough to vote.
“Yet a child can be dragged through a courtroom designed for
adult offenders, and sentenced to many years imprisonment from the
age of 10,” he added.
Serious crimes should be seen as unacceptable, regardless of the
age of offenders, he added: “But we need to develop responses to
such crimes which recognise that child offenders are children and
should be treated as such. Not simply as adult offenders deserving
‘Children who commit grave crimes’ available from 020 7840