MPs call for end to ‘over-use’ of custody

Government plans to build more prisons and YOIs would be a “costly mistake”, according to a group of MPs, who say the budgets should be reinvested directly into communities.

A report by the House of Commons’ justice committee, Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment, slammed the government’s “over-emphasis” on the use of custody which, it said, was “relatively ineffective” at reducing crime.

The MPs looked at how preventive measures could reduce offending and youth custody numbers and ease the pressure on youth offending teams (YOTs).

The report highlighted a youth custody panel which has helped to reduce the number of custodial sentences in Wessex by 42%. The panel’s representatives, drawn from the YOT, children’s services and local volunteers, review cases to see how custodial sentences could have been avoided.

The justice committee also explored the practicalities of devolving youth custody budgets to local authorities. One youth investment programme in Deschutes, Oregon, where management responsibility for some young offenders was given to Deschutes county, resulted in a 75% cut in custody rates.

Jon Collins, campaign director for the Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of 46 organisations involved in criminal justice policy and practice, praised the MPs for their “thorough and wide-ranging” review of criminal justice policy, which he called a “comprehensive blueprint for reform”.

“The criminal justice system simply cannot continue to operate as it is now, with prisons dangerously overcrowded, high reoffending rates and billions wasted on building endless new prisons,” Collins said. “This report provides whichever party wins the forthcoming general election with a comprehensive blueprint for reform.

“Both main parties should seize this opportunity to end the party-political squabbling over criminal justice policy and unite behind the recommendations of this report,” he said.

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