Young offenders’ welfare has to be addressed
if rates of re-offending are to be reduced, writes Nacro’s Keith
Early in New Labour’s first term, former home
secretary Jack Straw declared the youth justice system was failing
and a radical approach was needed. The Youth Justice Board emerged
and a new agenda took shape.
Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced the requirement for each
council to set up a youth offending team in partnership with local
police, probation and health services. The shake-up was due, but it
came close to throwing the baby out with the bath water.
system before was built on diverting young people from prosecution
and custody. Interventions were proportionate to the offence and
concerned with balancing the young person’s welfare with addressing
offending behaviour. Custody was reduced and alternatives began to
reduce re-offending rates.
youth justice world is now driven by performance indicators, league
tables and business management approaches. And here we are again
with rising use of custody (we lock up more of our young people
than any other European country) and the emergence of the debate
about youth justice and social inclusion.
Youth Justice Board is concerned about the rising use of custody
and wants to promote community sentencing as a positive alternative
for most young offenders. At the heart of the debate is the
question: are these young people offenders or children?
answer is that they are both. What works in terms of tackling youth
offending should be explicitly built on addressing both the welfare
and offending issues of young people in equal measure.
custody needs to be reduced by increasing targeted community
sentences. The minimum age at which custodial sentences can be
imposed should be raised and remands to custody for under-16s
crime reduction strategy that places YOTs as partners in the social
inclusion agenda should be clearly defined. YOTs cannot and should
not be expected to run a prevention agenda alone. Additionally, the
role of a children’s commissioner should be promoted in England to
mirror current Welsh arrangements.
reduction is more than just the responsibility of the traditional
law and order organisations – police, courts, prisons, YOTs and the
probation services. Prevention goes much wider and should include
all the key stakeholders, including young people and the
communities in which they live.
Keith Towler is director of crime
reduction at rehabilitation agency Nacro.