Morgan questions use of custody as number of juveniles detained rises

The new chair of the Youth Justice Board expressed his fears over
the use of custody as he revealed last week that the juvenile
prison population has risen since Christmas.

Rod Morgan told the annual conference of rehabilitation agency
Nacro that over the past 18 months the board had enjoyed moderate
success in reducing the detention of children and thought it was
“bucking the trend”.

But, although the board expected the usual seasonal fluctuation
after Christmas, the figure did not flatten out in March and was
continuing to rise, he said.

“We aim to have 90 per cent occupancy rate in our secure places and
10 per cent spare capacity,” he told delegates. “But today the
capacity was 99.5 per cent full.”

Morgan attributed the rise to the number of remand prisoners, which
had “gone up steeply”, and to children detained for breaching
orders, including antisocial behaviour orders.

Morgan warned that the death of Joseph Scholes, whose inquest
opened last week, was a reminder of the consequences of having a
high prison population. Scholes, 16, was found hanging in Stoke
Heath Young Offenders Institution in Shropshire in March

Morgan warned that, when the numbers rose, the pressures were
greater and the risks increased.

But he welcomed the fact that the health care centre where Joseph
died was being converted into a resettlement centre and new health
care facilities were being built.

Morgan said the board wanted to give youth offending team managers
more money to create and develop alternatives to custody, but he
warned that this could only be achieved if the prison population
was reduced.

“We need to persuade sentencers that there are credible, humane
alternatives to custody,” he said. “If numbers rise, we will face
further problems.”

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