The government must admit its “shameful” failure to reduce the numbers of young people going into custody, an expert told Nacro’s annual youth crime conference yesterday.
Enver Solomon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice studies at King’s College, London, said progress was “going backwards”. He cited figures showing that there had been 2,676 juveniles in custody in March 2005, when the Youth Justice Board set a target of a 10% reduction by March 2008. But according to the latest official figures, there were 2,828 juveniles in custody in January.
“This is a black mark against all the government has achieved and the investment they have put into the youth justice system,” Solomon said.
Speaking at the Nacro conference at Warwick University, Solomon blamed the increasing “criminalisation’ of children under New Labour for the rise of custody numbers.
He cited a Nacro study published this month that suggested police targets on offences brought to justice had led to children begin criminalised for “relatively minor transgressions”.
Police targets driving custody numbers
“Offences brought to justice was a New Labour buzzword that resulted in police going around the country to meet targets by issuing sanctions including reprimands, cautions and penalty notices for disorder to 16 and 17-year-olds. These offences were previously dealt with informally,” Solomon said.
He argued criminalising children was “counterproductive” and said police were caught between meeting these targets and working with youth offending teams to reduce the numbers of children entering the criminal justice system for the first time.
New community sentence
Solomon also questioned whether a new forthcoming generic community sentence for young offenders, the youth rehabilitation order, would be sufficiently resourced. The order will be introduced under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.
Solomon is due to publish an audit of youth justice policy under ten years of New Labour in May.