Summer rise in youth custody figures deals blow to justice board efforts

A surge in the number of children and young people remanded in
custody over the summer has taken the number of juveniles locked up
to one of its highest levels in three years, Community
has learned, write Gordon Carson and Maria

The figures are a huge blow to the Youth Justice Board’s
efforts to reduce the number of young people in custody. The
population is now higher than it was last October, when the board
set a target of a 10 per cent cut by March 2007.

There were nearly 2,900 under-18s detained in local authority
secure children homes, secure training centres and young offender
institutions at the end of last week, up from fewer than 2,700 in
early April, figures from the YJB show.

A Home Office spokesperson said it was too early to say if the
increase was part of a wider trend. “The law requires that
custody should be used as a last resort but it’s for the
courts to decide what’s appropriate in individual
cases,” he said. “We believe there’s scope for
the use of more non-custodial sentences for under-18s and are
committed to the YJB’s 10 per cent reduction

He said a sentencing and youth justice bill, likely to be
introduced in October, would give the courts more community
sentencing options for young people committing
“high-end” offences.

YJB chair Rod Morgan claimed the failure of other public services,
such as education, to help young offenders had led to an increase
in the number locked up for breaching community orders.

Tim Bateman, senior policy development officer at crime-reduction
charity Nacro, said a “much larger number” of community
orders were now being breached.

The YJB is in talks with ministers and the Sentencing Guidelines
Council about the increase.

Local authority secure children homes and secure training centres
are now operating at capacity, with the YJB buying spare welfare
beds in mixed-use secure homes in spot deals. Spare capacity in
YOIs has also fallen from the YJB’s target of 8 to 10 per
cent to 3 to 4 per cent, but Morgan said it could cope.

The number of boys remanded in custody has risen by one-fifth,
while the number of girls remanded or sentenced has risen by nearly

“These figures are worrying as they reflect an increase on an
already unacceptable level of young people in custody.”
Tim Bateman, Nacro

 “Nothing done within the youth justice system is going to
work unless it is backed up by major public services.”
Rod Morgan, Youth Justice Board

 “The target to reduce the number of children in custody
will only be met if a broad strategy, with strong political
leadership, is implemented.”
William Higham, Prison Reform Trust

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