Child detention policy slammed as a waste of money and risk to welfare

Nacro has branded the UK’s overuse of child detention as “damaging
and counterproductive” in a report on the cost to society and
taxpayers of imprisoning children.

The study says young offenders are often victims of abuse and
neglect. Imprisonment compounds the problems, increasing
susceptibility to self-harm and suicide and a greater likelihood of
continued offending.

“Custody is detrimental to children’s welfare, is
counter-productive as a measure for reducing youth crime, and it is
wasteful of resources which might be put to better use,” says the
report by the rehabilitation agency’s committee on children and
crime to be published next week.

At the heart of the problem is a glaring contrast between the
welfare needs of most imprisoned young people and the ability of
custody to deliver services to address them.

More than half of imprisoned children have had previous involvement
with social services, levels of sexual abuse are high and more than
half of those aged 16-20 report a drug dependence before

The charity believes that “custodial institutions are poorly
equipped to respond to this level of need” and can often exacerbate
the vulnerabilities of those detained. Twelve boys aged 16-17
killed themselves in custody between 1998 and 2002 while rates of
self-harm are “alarming” and bullying is rife.

Re-offending rates are high. Eighty per cent of 14 to 17 year olds
released from young offenders institutions in 1998 were reconvicted
within two years.

By contrast, the report argues that community sentences have a
better record in terms of preventing re-offending. The cost of a
place on an intensive supervision and surveillance programme over
six months costs about £6,000 compared with £21,000 for a
custodial sentence over the same period.

The committee says the recommendation by former chief inspector of
prisons Sir David Ramsbotham that under-18s should be removed from
custody “should be restated with a degree of vigour”.

Meanwhile, the government has met its pledge to halve the time from
arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders for the eighth
consecutive quarter. In April-June, the average figure was 64 days,
seven below the target figure of 71 days. 

Counting the Cost: Reducing Child Imprisonment from 020
7840 6427.

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