Rise in young adult prisoners prompts demand for action

Criminal justice campaigners have called on the government to fill the policy “black hole” facing young adult offenders after government figures showed an 8% annual rise in the number held in custody.

The number of prisoners in England and Wales aged 18 to 20 rose from 8,738 in June 2006 to 9,455 in June this year, Ministry of Justice figures published last week showed.

Nearly two-thirds of young adults reoffend within two years of release, compared with about 58% of adult prisoners. Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers has repeatedly questioned whether their needs are catered for by the prison system.

Chris Stanley, head of policy at crime reduction charity Nacro, suggested the main reason for the rise was the greater use by magistrates of conditional suspended sentences. If the conditions are breached offenders are nearly always jailed, Stanley said.

The Criminal Justice Bill, published in June, proposed less reliance on suspended sentences and more use of community sentences, but Stanley said the community programmes delivered by the probation service were not robust enough to be seen as an alternative to custody.

He said specialist transition teams, similar to youth offending teams, should be set up for young adults, to help deal with their associated substance misuse, mental health, housing and employment issues.

Stanley added: “Young adults are probably the most neglected group of offenders. When somebody reaches 18 they don’t suddenly stop having the characteristics of young people but they are treated like adult offenders.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform said, although resources were dedicated to under-18 offenders, a “black hole” had opened up between the ages of 18 and 21.

Population in Custody June 2007

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 Simeon Brody

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