A more localised approach to youth justice could save £60m according to a report from the new economics foundation (nef).
Published today, Punishing Costs, claims that sending a child to prison now costs the state £140,000 in prison costs and indirect costs upon release – more than six times the cost of sending a child to Eton.
The report found that councils could reduce the use of youth custody by 13% without changing policy or legislation. The authors recommend devolving custody budgets to local authorities to “remove the perverse incentive [for councils] to put young people in prison”.
Nef also recommended that better co-operation between local youth offending services and magistrates, including the use of restorative justice in sentence plans, could save over £2m in some local authority areas.
The report found that England and Wales, proportionately, still imprison more children than almost any other Western European country, although 82% of 12 to 14-year-olds in custody had never committed a violent offence.
Spending time in prison made a child less likely to engage with education and more likely to face unemployment, low income and unstable living conditions in the future. This toxic combination was also leading to higher levels of reoffending, the report found.
Waste of resources
Aleksi Knuutila, author of the report, said: “What really makes our obsessive use of prisons even more of a tragedy is that those resources could have been used to tackle crime much more effectively.
“The resources we now waste on locking children up could be spent on measures that would really keep our streets safer. All the research shows that prison is failing to rehabilitate offenders and isn’t steering them away from crime.
At a time when public services are being cut everywhere, we need to ask whether our spending is really delivering on safety in our neighbourhoods,” Knuutila said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, backed the report’s findings. Lyon said: “To prevent the unnecessary and expensive imprisonment of young people, we need to change how we spend public money.”
“Devolving budgets for prison places to local authorities would encourage them to deal with minor offending in the community, instead of relying on a central prison system. Community measures reduce offending much more effectively than any length of prison sentence.
“At a time of economic belt tightening across the public sector…scarce resources should be directed towards the welfare of children and their neighbourhoods – stopping crime before it starts and reducing the need for prison,” Lyon said.