Youth custodial sentences slashed by 42% in North Hampshire

A panel to review youth imprisonment cases has helped trigger a 42% fall in custodial sentences in North Hampshire, the Howard League for Penal Reform and Local Government Association said today.

In a report, the LGA and Howard League said the number of young people sentenced to custody had fallen from 78 in 2007 to 45 in 2008, following the establishment of a custody panel for the area in September 2007.

The panel, which includes representatives from children’s services, the youth offending team and other agencies, has analysed the cases of all children sentenced to custody to examine what could have prevented them being imprisoned.

Children in Trouble project

It was set up as part of the LGA and Howard League’s Children in Trouble project, which is examining alternatives to custody for young people.

Children in Trouble consultant Jon Fayle, who wrote today’s report, said: “It’s impossible to say that the drop in custody has been entirely caused by the custody panel. I do believe the custody panel has made a very significant impact.”

Pre-sentence reports

He said key factors had included the panel’s analysis of pre-sentence reports (PSRs), which he said had led to an improvement in PSR writing in a way that has discouraged the use of custody.

He also said the panel had encouraged the youth offending team and children’s services to work more closely together and consider how to tailor services to reduce the need for custody. Fayle said that it was an “excellent mechanism” for improving joint working between Yots and children’s services, which has often been criticised.

Fayle, formerly head of policy for the juvenile secure estate at the Youth Justice Board, urged the YJB and Ministry of Justice to encourage councils across the country to set up custody panels.

Concerns over involving judiciary

The North Hampshire panel had no involvement from magistrates and judges, and Fayle said there were “quite proper concerns” about how this could be achieved without compromising judicial impartiality.

He said: “It would be difficult for a magistrate to be sitting on a custody panel one day and then the next day finding themselves sentencing a child whom they had been discussing on the panel.”

But he said these difficulties could be overcome, for instance by inviting the clerk of the court to sit on the panel.

Custodial remands up

The number of young people remanded in custody in the area rose from 49 to 65 from 2007-8, however, though the panel is now seeking to extend its remit to cover remands.

  • Community Care is running a conference on good practice in preventing youth crime on 20 May. Register here.

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