Ministers ‘must look abroad to help cut youth custody’

The high rates of youth custody in England and Wales could be reduced by learning lessons from policies used abroad, a Prison Reform Trust-commissioned report said today.


Reducing child imprisonment in England and Wales – lessons from abroad – commissioned by the trust as part of a five-year strategy to reduce youth imprisonment  – examined approaches in European and North America countries with low and falling numbers of children in prison.


The number of children sentenced to custody in England and Wales more than tripled between 1991 and 2006, and, as of June 2009, there were almost 3,000 children and young people in young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and secure training centres.


Success abroad


Examples cited by the report included laws in Canada – where youth crime and the rate of admission to youth custody have fallen significantly since 2003 – which restrict when courts can issue custodial sentences to children who have breached court orders.


The report also looked at how policymakers in Canada and New York had responded to the cost of youth imprisonment by rethinking their approach to tackling youth crime.


Since 2000, the number of children held in custody on remand has increased by 41%, despite the fact that an estimated 75% of children remanded are later acquitted or given community sentences. A 2008 poll by crime reduction campaign SmartJustice revealed 65% of people surveyed believed imprisonment is not the way to punish young people who commit non-violent crimes.


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