Rise in children in custody highlights government failure

The government is failing in its own stated policy aim to limit
the number of children being sentenced to custody, according to a
report by rehabilitation agency Nacro, writes Clare

The report details a ‘rush to custody’ with an 800
per cent rise in the number of under-15s sentenced to detention
over the past decade. It argues that present levels of child
imprisonment in England and Wales constitute a continued breach of
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The rise cannot be attributed to increased offending by this
group, according to the report, because rates of recorded offending
by under 18s fell by a fifth between 1992 and 2001.

The government’s ‘Justice for All’ white paper published last
July said: “Our juvenile sentencing policy aims to limit the
number of young people who are in custodial provision”.

Lord Alex Carlile QC, chairperson of Nacro’s committee on
children and crime, said: “It is a national disgrace that
incarcerating children is viewed as anything, but a last resort in
response to the problem of juvenile crime.”

The report also notes an over-representation of black young
people in the youth justice system with black children being almost
five times more likely to be incarcerated than any other group.

While the level of youth custodial sentencing has risen by more
than 90 per cent since the early 1990s, the expansion for girls is
“alarming”, at around 400 per cent.

Nacro believes policy shifts have mirrored perceived public
concerns about ‘unruly children’, and legislative
changes have resulted in a framework that permits harsher

“There is a pressing need for the development of a clear
perspective that can be instrumental in pushing policy and practice
in an alternative direction to that which has dominated the recent
past,” the report concludes.

Report available from 020 7840 6500.

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