Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the news:

The Home Office may talk of reducing the number of young people in
custody, but a quick survey of the juvenile secure estate suggests
a single prevailing principle: pack ’em in. Lord Warner,
chairperson of the Youth Justice Board, told a recent conference
that young offenders institutions and other detention facilities
for young people were running at 97 per cent capacity, well beyond
the 93 per cent at which the system starts to creak. Just as
worryingly, he revealed that 20 young people a week identified as
vulnerable were being placed in prison service custody, even though
the board aims to place such youngsters in other, less forbidding,
secure accommodation. Lord Warner called on the courts to resort
less often to jail sentences and use the growing number of
community penalties available to them. Home secretary David
Blunkett had a more novel suggestion: young offenders should be
given boxing lessons to turn them away from crime. Boxing could
provide an avenue for excluded young people to re-engage with the
wider community, he said. Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care
Leavers Association

“No one should be surprised that the prisons are overcrowded. The
government has abandoned serious attempts at improving the lot of
young people and has instead gone in for “lock’em up” thinking.
Home secretary David Blunkett’s ridiculous solution is to get young
prisoners to learn to box – like who? Like Mike Tyson, perhaps, or
some other living example of how not to behave.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“We lock up more young people than any other country in western
Europe. If you’re black, it’s six times more likely you’ll be
locked up than if you’re white. There have been 11 suicides in five
years. Conditions have been described as ‘unacceptable in a
civilised society’ and ‘institutionalised child abuse’. Raise the
age of criminal responsibility. Stop trying children in courts as
if they were adults. Only use prison as a last resort and for the
shortest possible time. We have to ensure young prisoners’ rights
to health, education, protection, advocacy and complaint are

Karen Squillino, senior practitioner,

“The government certainly has not got the solution to reducing the
ridiculous number of young people in custody. With the
implementation of detention training orders technically a child can
be locked up for an offence from the age of 10. The emergence of
referral orders is not going to ease the problem. If magistrates
are not keen to offer a first-time offender a referral order, their
only other option is custody. This will serve only to increase the
number of incarcerated young people. If there is going to be any
reduction in locked-up young people the punitive ideology needs to
shift to a more holistic way of thinking.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“The problems with the youth justice system are a symptom of the
mixed messages that are increasingly coming out of the government.
On the one hand we have ministers talking about the need to
re-engage socially excluded young people in positive ways and, on
the other, we have sometimes the same minister talking about
punishment in a much harsher sense. The home secretary’s sound bite
about boxing clubs would have been more logical if accompanied by
extra funding for youth boxing clubs. We need politicians who
understand that a sound bite is not a solution.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The crisis is of our own making – where is evidence-based
practice? Early intervention through the courts with young
offenders escalates their progress to custody – this is
demonstrated by the more punitive recommendations now apparent in
pre-sentence reports. Custodial remands are highly correlated with
custodial sentences and then with the poorest outcomes.”

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