Youth Justice Board under fire as custody numbers rise by 10%

The Youth Justice Board has missed its target to cut youth custody numbers by 10% from 2005-8. Instead, numbers have risen by almost 10%.

The latest figures from the board show that in March this year, there were 2,942 under-18s in prison, secure training centres and secure children’s homes.

The board had been aiming to reduce the juvenile prison population from 2,676 in March 2005 to 2,408 by March 2008.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said the figures raised serious questions about the future of the YJB. Director Frances Crook said: “We know the YJB is, to some extent, at the mercy of other forces, and we know ministers are never shy of ratcheting up another crackdown on youth crime and antisocial behaviour, which places the YJB on the back foot every time.

“Nonetheless, this is an organisation that needs to ask some pretty searching questions of itself. What is the purpose of the YJB if it is actually presiding over a worsening situation with regard to children in custody?”

The Prison Reform Trust also said the situation was bleak. Penelope Gibbs, director of the trust’s strategy to reduce child and youth imprisonment, said: “These figures confirm that our over-reliance on prison is getting worse. If prison continues to grab the lion’s share of youth justice money, leaving precious little for preventive or rehabilitative work, then our record of failure will grow and more children will graduate into a life of crime and our adult prisons.”

But, although the number of people in youth custody has risen rather than fallen, the YJB said there were some causes for hope. A spokesperson said: “The use of custody as a proportion of court sentences has declined. This may indicate sentencers have greater confidence in community alternatives.

“The YJB is pleased that the proportionate use of custody for children and young people is a target now shared by local government and its partners following the inclusion of a new indicator for England.”

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