Board to pilot referrals of young offenders straight to open prison

Young offenders will be transferred directly from court to an open institution under a pilot project to be launched by the Youth Justice Board in April.

The YJB is investing £500,000 in a new unit at Thorn Cross Young Offender Institution in Warrington,  Cheshire, which is the only open site for young offenders in England and Wales.

Thorn Cross, which has 60 beds, currently only takes young offenders from other YOIs.

The new unit will have 10 beds, and young offenders will initially be placed in it for two weeks to assess whether they are suited to open conditions.

In its strategy for the secure estate for juveniles, published last November, the YJB said it wanted more young people in custody to be held in open accommodation (news, 1 December 2005).

Meanwhile, the YJB has signed contracts with two secure training centres to provide dedicated units for young women aged under 18.

An 11-bed unit will open in July at Rainsbrook STC, in Northamptonshire, while a 16-bed unit will open at the Hassockfield centre, in County Durham, in October.

The units will include some places for pregnant girls, and for young mothers and their babies.

The YJB has also said that the number of under-18s in custody has fallen sharply, from 2,865 at the end of November to 2,621 a month later.

However, it expects the figure to rise again soon, in line with seasonal trends.

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