Exclusive: Detention for children ‘overused’ claims agency

Nacro has branded the UK’s current overuse of child
detention as “damaging and counterproductive” in a
report which highlights both the damaging effect of imprisonment
and the financial cost, writes Clare

Children who offend are often the victims of abuse and neglect
and incarceration compounds existing problems. It leads to
increased likelihood of self-harm, suicide and continued offending.
At the same time, a six-month custodial sentence costs around
£21,000, according to the report from the rehabilitation
agency’s committee on children and crime to be published next

Over half of imprisoned children have had previous involvement
with social services, levels of sexual abuse are high and more than
half of those aged between 16 and 20 report a drug dependence prior
to detention.

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 16
and 17-year-old boys killed themselves in custody between 1998 and
2002, rates of self-harm are “alarming” and bullying is

Re-offending rates are also notoriously high: 80 per cent of 14
to 17-year-olds released from young offender institutions in 1998
were reconvicted within two years.

By contrast, community sentences have a better record in terms
of preventing offending, the report argued, and a place for six
months on an intensive supervision and surveillance programme only
costs around £6,000.

Intervention with children in the community also means the
child’s problems can be tackled in their own environment
rather than an “artificial, institutional setting”.

‘Counting the cost: Reducing Child Imprisonment’
available from Monday 15 September on 020 7840 6427

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