Still locking them up

A year after the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood in custody,
this ought to be a good time to review the improvements made since
in the penal system for young people. But the sad fact is, it is
not. Not only are Adam’s family still at least another year away
from receiving a formal explanation for his death in a secure
training centre, but the system of which he became the youngest
victim continues to be crisis-prone.

Despite the best efforts of the Youth Justice Board, the past four
months have seen an unexplained surge in the number of children and
young people locked up to one of the highest in years. While
antisocial behaviour order breaches are, as usual, among the chief
suspects for the increase, it is far from clear they are the only
reason. There are as many explanations as there are experts to give
them: depending to whom you talk, it is the fault of government for
talking up the threat of youth crime; schools for being unavailable
to children on community orders; the rising caseloads of youth
offending teams; and harsh, inconsistent sentencing policies.

Doubtless all these factors are to blame in varying degrees. So who
is responsible for the mess? Certainly not hard-pressed YOT
managers, though politicians, head teachers and the courts could do
better. But underneath all this is the continuing failure of the
YJB’s grand strategy to make an impact. In a consultation document
last November, it set itself the target of reducing the numbers of
juveniles in detention by 10 per cent by March 2007. Even if they
are not the death knell for this target, the new figures will be a
considerable setback.

The same document said the target would be achieved by placing more
children in non-secure accommodation, developing intensive
fostering and making more flexible use of temporary release. The
truth is that there is still a long way to go with all of these,
despite their potential to provide a cure where the need is
greatest – custodial remands, up by one-fifth. And girls, for whom
custodial remands and sentences have risen by two-fifths, would
also be beneficiaries. The YJB’s medicine can achieve much. But it
must have the full backing of government and other public services
to administer it.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.