Young people charged with rioting and looting are being remanded in custody without the support from youth offending teams that they are entitled to.
In a message sent out to youth offending teams (YOTs), John Drew, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board (YJB), wrote: “We’ve become aware that some courts are not alerting YOTs when young people appear in adult magistrates’ courts, and that as a result, some young people have been remanded to custody without the YOT’s input.”
He said the YJB was dealing with the matter, but urged YOTs to “liaise closely with courts and probation at a local level to ensure that you are notified when young people appear”.
Campaigners have warned that this oversight breaches young offenders’ rights. Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, acknowledged that courts are under pressure to process offenders quickly, but warned that vital pre-sentence reports and assessments will not be done without YOT input.
“Many of these young people are first-time offenders, with no experience of custody, and they are being remanded in prison without any of the support they are entitled to and without YOTs knowing where they are being placed or what their needs are,” Neilson said.
He added: “Some young people are even being sent miles from home as prisons run out of space. We know of one young man, from
A YJB spokesperson said the board is working closely with courts “to ensure that they are communicating well with the YOTs, the probation service and the secure estate”.
“Secure establishments have processes for managing young people who arrive in custody without the full range of assessment information and, where necessary, will take steps to manage these young people as higher risk,” the spokesperson added.
Neilson also said that the use of custodial remand was a “punitive” and “expensive” option, which could put pressure on the YJB’s budget in the current economic climate.
“The Howard League does not believe that young people should be remanded to custody for first-time and low level offences. Would these young people, many of whom have committed non-violent offences, such as stealing low value goods, have been sent to prison for the same offence if it had been committed at another time? I doubt it,” he said.
A YJB spokesperson said the board’s custody budget can cope with the rising demand, and confirmed that none of the YJB’s future spending – such as the £3m set aside to fund social workers in young offender institutions (YOIs) – would be affected.
“The numbers of remands that we are seeing, as a result of the recent disturbances, will have no impact on our commitment to fund social workers in YOIs,” the spokesperson said.
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