About £80m a year is being “wasted” because young people leaving custody are being inadequately resettled, according to a report this week commissioned by youth charity Rainer.
It argues that this leads to a greater likelihood of reoffending, ratcheting up costs in terms of custody, crime and housing.
The report focuses on the 6,500 15 to 17-year-olds on detention and training orders who leave custody each year. The orders are given to some of the most serious and persistent offenders.
It claims the overall public cost of each young offender is about £78,000 a year, made up of custody (£30,500), the costs of crime (£46,500) and emergency accommodation (£1,100), with 15% of young people on the orders homeless on leaving custody.
Rainer claims savings of more than £12,000 a year for each offender (see panel) could be made under a scheme such as Reset, a pilot it has been running since 2005. It provides resettlement workers and help with education and training, family support, accommodation, mentoring and substance misuse.
Although the Youth Justice Board issued a resettlement strategy last February, a lack of funds and the rise in youth custody numbers have stalled progress.
Emerging evidence from the pilot suggests some young people are “simply being given a travel warrant and dropped off at the nearest train station” after they leave prison.
Rainer claims overcrowding is putting “severe pressure” on staff in secure institutions who have too little time to plan for release, with contact between offenders and youth offending teams occurring “far too late”.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has repeatedly raised the issue of councils not fulfilling their duties to young offenders leaving custody, taking two cases to court. In the most recent, the Court of Appeal ruled Sutton Council had “sidestepped” its responsibilities to accommodate a 17-year-old, by treating her as homeless.
A 10-year government crime strategy published in March said young people leaving custody should receive the same assistance as care leavers, though this will require extra resource.
Judy Renshaw, author of the Rainer report and of two landmark Audit Commission youth justice studies – Misspent Youth in 1998 and Youth Justice in 2004 – argues local authorities must allocate ring-fenced money for resettlement, saying YOTs lack the capacity to deliver.
She says: “YOTs have high caseloads. They can’t always support young people who have difficult family lives and a lot of temptation to reoffend. If YOTs are seeing them once or twice a week it isn’t enough.”
YOTs receive funding from many sources, including councils and the Youth Justice Board, but do not always fund dedicated resettlement workers.
Mike Thomas, chair of the Association of YOT Managers, says services will continue to struggle without focused resources. “Since YOTs were established in 2000 we have been given no more than core funding, despite a rise of more than a quarter in young people going through the courts.”
Since Misspent Youth in 1998, which found little time was spent on face-to-face contact with young people in the criminal justice system, “things have hardly changed”, says Thomas.
He also believes the responsibility lies with a wider range of agencies. “YOTs have strong links with the secure estate, but there is no way of holding secure estate staff to account if they don’t come up with the goods. There should be some mechanism to hold staff to account on a case-by-case basis.
“Just having a resettlement worker on the YOT is not the answer – there needs to be more input from local authorities and services like mental health.”
He adds: “National and local policymakers are asking for trouble if they do not improve resettlement for young people who are very likely to reoffend.”
£78,040: Annual cost to services for a persistent young offender without resettlement support.
£65,797: Comparative cost with resettlement support for nine months.
Source: Costs and Benefits of Effective Resettlement: www.reset.uk.net
Essential information on youth justice