Editorial Comment: Young people face misery in prison

Our prisons for young people are full to bursting point, which has forced the Youth Justice Board to come up with a crisis plan to try to tackle the problem.

But its package of measures includes a number of proposals that can only be described as draconian and retrograde. For example, cells that have not been used for years are going to be dusted down and brought back into service. Meanwhile, boys who have reached 18 are going to be packed off to adult prisons to take their chance alongside hardened criminals. No doubt the latter will be only too pleased to open the eyes of teenage boys to further criminal opportunities, ensuring that when they do finally pass back out the prison gates it won’t be too long before they return.

But one of the most worrying proposals is the planned extension of the practice of cell-sharing to free up beds for the burgeoning prison population. It’s barely six weeks since the publication of the report of the Mubarek Inquiry that branded compulsory cell-sharing as dangerous and urged that scrapping it should be made a top priority.

The YJB acknowledges that “careful” assessments are needed to ensure only suitable people share cells. But it’s often hard to identify who might be a danger once the cell door slams shut. Not all would-be attackers have RIP tattooed on their forehead like Zahid Mubarek’s killer did.

Isn’t the point of inquiries like that into the Mubarek killing to ensure that the lessons learned are acted upon? What is the point of spending vast amounts of time and money drawing up a list of recommendations only to have them ignored a few short weeks later?

The YJB says it cannot explain why an increasing number of young people are ending up behind bars when all the evidence suggests this is doing nothing to cut crime rates. But one obvious reason is that magistrates have little or no confidence in the usefulness of community orders to divert ex- and would-be offenders away from a life of crime. Improving the effectiveness of community placements – and making magistrates aware of their potential for rehabilitation – must surely be a better way forward than moves that will result in even more children behind bars.

Additional reading
Board calls for emergency measures as secure estate nears full capacity

Further information
Youth Justice Board

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