Visiting a project which provides training and education opportunities for young offenders and disadvantaged young people, Liberal Democrat Leader Menzies Campbell spoke of the need to radically reduce use of prison for children.
Key existing problems include:
- Children who are sent to prison are most likely to reoffend
- 78% of young offenders released from prison reoffend within a year
- For boys aged between 10-14 the repeat crime rate is 85%
- The youth custody estate is full, with about 2,900 under-18s being held in custody
- There has been a 90% increase in the number of children in prison since 1992
- Keeping children in prison costs £280 million a year, 70% of the whole Youth Justice Board budget
Menzies Campbell said:
Sending young people to prison is not working.
Instead of targeting spending on prisons the Government should focus its attention on providing more effective non-custodial punishments and preventative work based in the community.
Young offenders should be given full access to education and training opportunities so that they have the skills to break out of the cycle of reoffending.
Communities should also be given powers to establish panels which would require offenders to face up to their crimes and engage in community work as reparation.
The South London project which Menzies Campbell is visiting is run by Nacro, the crime reduction charity. Nacro’s Chief Executive, Paul Cavadino said:
“Providing education and training opportunities for young offenders and disadvantaged young people is crucial to reducing youth crime. Extending education and support programmes for marginalised young people would do far more to protect the public than locking up growing numbers of juveniles in custodial institutions.
“All too often young offender institutions act as colleges of crime where delinquents receive an education from other inmates in the tricks of the criminal trade. Resources to deal with youth crime should be concentrated on constructive community programmes which can help young people to turn their lives around.”
Former Head of Juvenile Secure Estate Policy for the Youth Justice Board, Jon Fayle said:
“The high and rising number of children in custody in England and Wales is little short of a national scandal. The Liberal Democrats’ proposals offer a sensible, rational approach to ending that scandal.
“Changes to sentencing policy, and a focus on rehabilitation and community punishments, would help turn children away from crime, reduce reoffending and therefore cut crime.”
The Liberal Democrat proposals include:
1. Introduce a presumption against sentences of less than 3 months, replacing them with rigorous non-custodial punishments lasting twice as long as the custodial sentence would have been.
2. End custody for under-15s, and phase out the use of traditional Prison Service accommodation for prisoners aged 15-17. Those children who need to be in custody would be sent to secure children’s homes and improved secure training centres.
3. Roll out Responsible Behaviour Panels across the country, modelled on the Community Justice Panel supported by Liberal Democrats in Somerset, which has a reoffending rate of 4%. Offenders will be required to face up to their crime/misbehaviour and engage in community work as reparation.
4. Expand the use of reparation orders, community punishments, and supervision orders for juveniles.
5. Give all young people in custody full access to education and training appropriate to their age, equivalent to that available to other young people.