Behind the headlines

Despite their impressive impact on the youth justice system, it
seems that intensive supervision and surveillance programmes
(ISSPs) are not having the desired effect. It had been hoped that
they would lead to a marked reduction in the numbers of under-18s
in custody, but new figures show that they have barely fallen even
though thousands of ISSPs have been dished out. According to the
Youth Justice Board, 6,339 young people were placed on the
programmes by the courts between July 2001 and September 2003,
while under-18s in custody dropped by only 143 to 2,760 between
July 2001 and August this year. There is clear evidence that,
instead of being used as an alternative to custody, ISSPs are being
used where community sentences would have been given anyway. Chris
Stanley, head of crime reduction at offender rehabilitation agency
Nacro, said the programme had “taken up the slack at the upper end
of community sentences. It has not been used to deal with children
committing offences higher up the scale.”   

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Centre for
Health Services Management, University of Birmingham

“One of the longest established research findings is that custodial
sentences do not reduce recidivism, yet custody seems to lead a
charmed life in political circles. The best route for the youth
justice service would be to prise it away from the Home Office and
put it in with all of the other services for children in the
Department for Education and Skills and the pending children’s
trusts. We might then see youth justice related properly to
children’s services rather than inappropriately to adult penal

Karen Squillino, primary prevention co-ordinator,

“Magistrates appear to be using ISSPs, designed to ensure more
effective community punishments, for offences that were once dealt
with through the imposition of supervision orders. This should then
bring the culture of the magistracy under scrutiny. The number of
young people in custody has not fallen significantly and there
appears to have been an up-tariffing on sentencing that has not
been challenged. The alleged sentencing patterns and potential
misuse of ISSPs needs to be addressed as they are not currently
serving their purpose.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Community sentencing will never reduce imprisonment rates. There
is more political capital for the government in generating a moral
panic over youth crime than celebrating falling crime rates and
establishing a youth justice system based on the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child. ISSPs have no chance when government is
set to keep the age of criminal responsibility at 10, make it
easier to lock up 12-14 year olds and not treat under-18s
separately from adults.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The Probation Service used to use the term ‘alternative to
custody’ for supervision orders with an intensive intermediate
treatment condition back in the 1980s when I was working with young
offenders and we were able to convince the courts to use them for
just that. It is tragic to see us going backwards again. When will
politicians realise that custody can irreparably damage children’s
lives and should only be used when the risk to the public is

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“Custodial institutions have struggled to create the right
environment to rehabilitate young people in terms of inmates’ well
being and offending behaviour. There have, of course, also been
concerns about the application of the Children Act. This leads us
to the conclusion that developing and rethinking community
sentences in different forms has to be the only real alternative.
How we make that alternative work is the real challenge.”

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