Sending Welsh Children to Prison Fails to Cut Reoffending

2007 Mawrth 13 12:18 PM

Commenting today on figures released by the Youth Justice Board that show the youth prison population is at its highest level since records began and that this year, the youth justice system could reach "saturation point", Jenny Willott MP said:

"It is quite clear that sending young people to prison is not working. Around 8 out of every 10 child prisoners reoffends within a year. And yet we are cramming more children into prisons than ever before.

"Child prisons are the fullest they have ever been. In the last year alone, there has been a 25% increase in the number of Welsh children behind bars.

"It costs nearly £100,000 a year to lock up a child so it's no wonder that the vast majority of the Youth Justice Board's budget is spent on this.

"And for Welsh young offenders, there are even more problems. Over 80% of Welsh child prisoners are locked up over the border in English prisons hundreds of miles away from their friends and family.

"This costs £15m a year and deprives children of regular access to their families and friends, dislodges them from the communities into which they are expected to reintegrate on release, and forces them to befriend and learn from other criminals.

"Our young offender units have become more like academies of crime than centres of rehabilitation. Is it any wonder that so many reoffend?

"We should focus our efforts on restorative justice programmes where communities have the powers to establish panels which would require offenders to face up to their crimes and engage in community work as reparation.

"We need to provide more effective non-custodial punishments and preventative work based in the community.

"And 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.

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."

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

• 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

• In December 2005, there were 107 young offenders attached to Welsh young offending teams. In December 2006, there 149, an increase of 25% (see PQ answer 106982)

• Keeping children in prison costs £280 million a year, 70% of the whole Youth Justice Board budget. This is approximately £100,000 for a total child prison population of 2,878. For 149 Welsh young offenders, this gives a total cost of around £15m.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats would:

1. Support the Development of Community Justice Panels to give local people a say in the punishment offenders carry out in their community. For example, by identifying community projects that improve the local environment such as cleaning graffiti, or repairing damage to victims' property - as an alternative to jail for non-violent offenders like shoplifters or petty vandals.

2. 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.

3. Expand the use of reparation orders, community punishments, and supervision orders for juveniles.

4. 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.

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.

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