The Prison Reform Trust today said councils should be given control of the child detention budget in order to boost investment in preventing offending.
The proposal, which has been submitted to ministers ahead of the government’s forthcoming youth crime action plan, won backing from town hall leaders. Leaked reports suggest that ministers are seriously considering the PRT’s proposal for the action plan, due out next month.
The £279m annual child custody budget, now managed by the Youth Justice Board, would be handed to councils to give them an incentive to prevent offending and offer alternatives to custody, the PRT said. The call follows the YJB’s failure to meet a target to cut custody numbers by 10% from March 2005 to March 2008. Instead they rose by almost 10%.
“Perverse incentive” for councils
Penelope Gibbs, director of the PRT’s programme to reduce child and youth imprisonment, said authorities had a “perverse financial incentive” in supporting the jailing of children who were in need or looked-after. “Councils do not have to foot the expensive bill for care once a child is in custody,” she said. More than 70% of young offenders have been in care or have had involvement with social services, according to the PRT.
John Coughlan, former president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, welcomed the proposal, which forms part of a 12-point plan to bring down the number of children in custody. “Success would depend on partnerships with the courts,” he said. But he rebutted the claim that councils “colluded” with locking up children on cost grounds.
Serious questions about YJB’s future
Former Youth Justice Board member Rob Allen said if the measure were adopted it would “raise questions” about the future of the board. “The YJB would have to argue what it brings to the party,” he said. According to the PRT’s plan, the YJB would continue to manage children’s jails but stronger links would be forged between the board and the councils responsible for children.
Other PRT plans
The PRT also proposed the following measures in today’s report:
- Ban imprisonment of under-14s.
- Use custody in the most serious and violent cases only.
- Expand alternatives to custody, including intensive fostering.
- Do more to prevent looked-after children entering custody.
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