Young people who are sent to jail are more likely to reoffend than those who are not

Much of the youth justice debate recently has failed to address the issues of those young people who have fallen foul of an arbitrary divide which assumes that everyone becomes a fully-fledged adult on their 18th birthday, writes Sukhvinder Stubbs.

Sending 18 to 24-year-olds to adult prisons is often disastrous for their prospects, socialising them into crime by bringing them into contact with older prisoners. When they are released, the social stigma makes stabilising factors, such as jobs, housing, and relationships, more difficult to find.

The statistics point to the costs in terms of public safety and wasted public finances as well as ruined lives. Nearly three-quarters of 18 to 20-year-olds are reconvicted soon after their release from prison. Each prison place for 18 to 24-year-olds costs £50,000 a year.

However, if they are not sent to jail, most young adults will grow out of crime by the age of 23. Offending rates peak in the middle teenage years and decline steadily until only a small percentage of offenders continue into their late twenties.

An independent Barrow Cadbury Commission has called for better integration between the youth and adult justice systems to deal with offenders according to maturity rather than age. We should take a lead from other countries, such as Germany, where 18 to 20-year-olds can remain the responsibility of the juvenile courts if they are not judged mature enough for adult justice.

Barrow Cadbury is in talks with leading authorities to establish pilot Transition to Adulthood (T2A) teams. The commission recommended that T2As should be statutorily responsible for young adult offenders as a group and would require all mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, education, training and housing agencies to develop programmes targeted to their needs.

Our failure to address the needs of young adult offenders in transition to adulthood is wasting young lives as well as huge amounts of public money, and is not reducing crime. There should be a strong presumption against custody for those younger than 24 in all but the most serious cases.

Sukhvinder Stubbs is chief executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust

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