There has been an 800 per cent increase in the number of
under-15s sentenced to custody over the past decade despite the
government’s pledge to limit the number of children
imprisoned, according to a new report by rehabilitation agency
The report accuses ministers of a “rush to custody” and 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, which forbids their detention other than
when there is no alternative.
It adds that the rise cannot be attributed to an increase in
crime with recorded offending by under-18s falling by a fifth
between 1992 and 2001.
The government’s Justice for All white paper, published
last July, states: “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 goes on to highlight an over-representation of young
black people in the youth justice system, with black children being
almost five times more likely to be incarcerated than the general
A 90 per cent rise in the level of youth custodial sentencing
since 1990 is also identified, with a 400 per cent expansion for
girls being described as “particularly alarming”.
Nacro believes changes to legislation that impose harsher
penalties have been made in response to public anxiety over an
epidemic of juvenile offending created by ill-informed reporting in
The report concludes by calling for the “development of a clear
perspective” in order to shift policy and practice into
understanding the case against child imprisonment.
– A Failure of Justice. Reducing Child Imprisonment
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