Young offenders left in lurch at the age of 21, argues new prisons chief

The cut-off age for services to young
offenders should be increased from 21 to 25, according to the chief
inspector of prisons.

Anne Owers, who took over the role from David
Ramsbotham in August, has claimed that the UK should be brought
into line with other countries which deal with “young” offenders
until their mid-twenties.

“All the evidence is that the pattern of
offending continues to peak in the early twenties, and the point of
real change for anyone is their mid-twenties, so we’d like to see
this approach moving up the system,” Owers added.

“I certainly think the cut-off point of 21
doesn’t necessarily reflect the developmental stage, because you
have a huge mixture of people who are at different stages of
maturity,” she added.

Any change in policy would also bring young
offenders into line with care leavers, whose services can continue
beyond the age of 21. This would ensure that the work of the Prison
Inspectorate would better reflect the work of social services.

Owers would also like to see “significant
improvements” made to services for young offenders aged 18 to 20.
She describes this group as “impoverished”.

As former director of the human rights
organisation Justice, Owers is disturbed that offenders in this age
group spend 18, sometimes 23, hours a day in their cells “without
sufficient purposeful activity”.

She believes she has inherited a climate where
the government, Prison Service and Youth Justice Board place
greater emphasis on purposeful activity and resettlement and the
system for 15 to 17-year- olds is leading the way. But too little
emphasis is being placed on older offenders.

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