All young offenders who are in prison awaiting trial will be given looked-after status under “radical” sentencing reforms outlined by the government.
Local authorities will also be responsible for covering the custody costs of these young people, introducing a financial incentive for councils to keep young offenders out of custody. The changes were included in the government’s Sentencing and Legal Aid Bill, introduced to parliament yesterday.
Penelope Gibbs, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s strategy to reduce child imprisonment, claimed the move would “put the onus on youth offending teams to offer courts robust and intensive packages of community support as an alternative to remand in custody”.
“Courts can be persuaded to make different decisions about custody and there a wide range of alternatives [such as intensive foster placements or supervision and surveillance], but this will put the spotlight on YOTs to improve their practice around community-based remand. Otherwise local authorities will be forced to meet the high costs of custodial remand,” she added.
Although most young people are bailed while they await trial, most of those who are not are remanded in custody. “If this reform works the proportion of children and young people remanded in custody could drop significantly. We are very much in favour.” Gibbs said.
The reforms to law around secure remand will also ensure that all children under 18 are subject to the same remand criteria, making it compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“Remand law was an anomaly in that 17-year-olds were effectively treated like adults. Because of this, 17-year-olds were disproportionately imprisoned while on remand. These changes will ensure all children and young people are treated the same,” Gibbs added.
Community Care is awaiting a response from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association.
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