‘Rush to custody’ brings huge surge in under-15s sentenced to detention

The number of under-15s sentenced to detention over the past 10
years has risen by 800 per cent, according to a report by
rehabilitation agency Nacro.

The study, launched at the organisation’s youth crime conference in
Loughborough last week, describes the system as one that leads to a
“rush to custody”.

It criticises the government for failing to fulfil its aim of
limiting the number of children given a custodial sentence.

The report claims that the levels of child imprisonment in England
and Wales are a continued breach of the United Nations Convention
on the Rights of the Child.

“It is a national disgrace that incarcerating children is viewed as
anything but a last resort in response to the problem of juvenile
crime,” said Lord Alex Carlile QC, chairperson of Nacro’s Committee
on Children and Crime.

The government’s Justice for All white paper published last July
states: “Our juvenile sentencing policy aims to limit the number of
young people who are in custodial provision.”

But the report says the rise cannot be attributed to increased
offending by this group because rates of recorded offending by
under-18s fell by one-fifth between 1992 and 2001.

It also highlights an over-representation of young, black people in
the youth justice system, with black children nearly five times
more likely to be incarcerated than the general population.

Although the level of youth custodial sentencing has risen by more
than 90 per cent since the early 1990s, the expansion for girls is
“particularly alarming” at about 400 per cent.

Nacro believes that policy shifts have mirrored perceived public
concerns about “unruly children” and legislative changes have
provided a framework that permits harsher treatment and reinforces
the need for it. It says there is a “pressing need” to push policy
and practice in an “alternative direction”.

– A Failure of Justice. Reducing Child Imprisonment from
020 7840 6500.

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