Youth crime down but number of children in prison ‘too high’ The number of offences committed by 10-17 year olds fell by 12% last year, while first-time offences for under 18s fell...

The number of offences committed by 10 to 17-year-olds in England and Wales fell by 12% last year, while first-time offences for under-18s fell by 21%, according to latest Youth Justice Board figures.

The Youth Justice Board’s Annual Workload Data, also revealed a small reduction in the number of children given custodial sentences, from 6,853 in 2007-08 to 6,720 in 2008-09.

However the figures showed no reduction in the number of children held in prison on remand – a figure which has risen by 41% since 2000-01 – and showed that 10- and 11-year-olds were convicted, or given a reprimand or final warning, for over 6,000 offences last year, despite more than 70% of the offences being non-violent.

Penelope Gibbs, of the Prison Reform Trust’s Out of Trouble programme, said that while there were “positive trends” in youth justice across England and Wales, there were also “worrying signs.”

“The number of under 18-year-olds who are imprisoned on remand is far too high and it is a waste of precious resources to imprison so many teenagers for breach – not turning up to appointments,” Gibbs said.

“The figures also throw further light on the prosecution of children. As well as reducing the number of under 18-year-olds we imprison, we need to take the very youngest out of the court system altogether.”

Gibbs said “huge differences” remain in the proportion of under 18-year-olds sent to prison across England and Wales, pointing out that in Merthyr Tydfil 20% of those convicted are sentenced to custody, compared with only 2% in Newcastle.

The figures revealed 765 children aged 14 and under were imprisoned last year and 118 children under the age of 14 were being held on remand. One in eight children in custody were held for breaching their sentences.

Enver Solomon, assistant director of policy and research at Barnardo’s, said custody does “more harm than good”.

“In the vast amount of cases, the punishment does not fit the crime. We’re not saying young offenders should be let off lightly, but custody does more harm than good. The government is even locking up some young children who do not fit its own criteria for custody,” Solomon said.

Solomon urged the new government’s sentencing review to “raise custody thresholds for children under 15.”

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