Young people have been drawn into the criminal justice system more than twice as quickly as adults over the past six years, the Institute for Public Policy Research revealed today.
It released figures obtained under freedom of information showing that the proportion of 10- to 18-year-olds convicted or cautioned in England and Wales had risen by 27% since 2002, compared to 11% for adults.
This is despite no increase in offending by young people during the period. The IPPR blamed government targets for police forces on bringing offences to justice which it said had led to a disproportionate focus on minor crimes by young people, which are easier to solve.
The IPPR’s associate director, public services, James Crabtree, said: “This has not resulted in crime reduction but serves to criminalise young people, increases re-offending and misdirects important resources away from dealing with severe offences and crime prevention.”
The think-tank said the criminal justice system should be reserved for serious young offenders, with the rest diverted to “community justice” schemes designed to prevent re-offending and confront offenders with the consequences of their actions.
This would include community justice panels, where members of the local community would agree “payback” contracts with offenders, for instance including voluntary work, and restorative conferences, in which victims confront offenders.
Face up to offending
Crabtree added: “Young offenders are more likely to give up crime if they face up to communities and victims to pay back for their crimes and tackle the causes of offending.”
The IPPR’s figures showed a massive range in criminalisation trends for young people across England and Wales. For instance in Northamptonshire, conviction and caution rates have fallen by 36% since 2002, while in Cheshire they have risen by 95%.
The IPPR will publish a full report on the issue, Youth justice: a new direction, next month.