Shocking Scale of Young Offender Over the Border Justice Revealed

December 12, 2006 11:26 AM

Today, Welsh Liberal Democrat research has revealed the full scale of over the border justice for juvenile offenders across Wales. Some of the key findings are:

• Since December 2005, there has been a 25% increase in Welsh juvenile offenders held in secure accommodation.

• Over the same period, the number of Welsh juvenile offenders held over the border in England has risen from 109 to 144 - a rise of 35%.

• Currently, 84% of Welsh juvenile offenders are held in England but there are huge differences depending on the part of Wales the juvenile offender is from.

• Mid-Wales' juveniles are held furthest from their friends and family, an average distance of 127 miles and roundtrip travel time of over 7 hours. 92% are held in England.

• Every single juvenile offender from North Wales is held in England. On average, they are held almost 90 miles away from their homes taking nearly 5 hours to visit.

• 22% of juvenile offenders from South Wales are held in Wales, on average 65 miles from their home communities, which takes over 3 hours to visit.

• Those from Gwent are held closest to home, on average 45 miles away with a roundtrip taking just 2 hours. 29% are held in Wales.

Commenting, Jenny Willott, Welsh Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central and Party Youth Spokesperson, said:

"The Youth Justice Board has a target to place young offenders within 50 miles of their homes. Only half of Wales' youngest offenders achieve this.

"A lot of evidence shows that juvenile offenders, those under 18 years old, need regular access to their friends, families and others from their home communities to maximise their chances of reintegration and of moving away from a life of crime.

"But Welsh juveniles are missing out badly. One in four is currently held over 100 miles from their homes making visits and face-to-face contact very difficult.

"One Welsh juvenile offender is currently serving a sentence on the east coast of England, 300 miles from their home in Swansea - a roundtrip by car that takes over 13 hours."

She continued: "We are at a dangerous crossroads in this country. This Government's hard-line agenda has helped to demonise young people and led to major increases in the numbers of young people being imprisoned. Since last year, there has been a 25% increase in the number of Welsh juvenile offenders behind bars.

"Currently, two-thirds of offenders re-offend within two years of release and young offender institutions are so full, that the Government is considering using care homes to house the excess numbers.

"This Government does not have a well thought-through progressive approach to youth crime. If we cannot rehabilitate our young people and lead them away from a life of crime, we are only creating long term problems for ourselves.

"We need to make far greater use of the most effective alternative sentences, such as tough community service, rigorous rehabilitation programmes and stringent close surveillance. Banging-up more young Welsh people hundreds of miles from their homes where they are most likely to get sucked into a permanent life of crime is not an option."

Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion and member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, currently running an inquiry into the Welsh prison service, added:

"There are huge differences in where young Welsh offenders are held depending on where they are from in Wales. Only 5 out of 17 local authorities in Wales have their juveniles offenders held within an average of 50 miles from their homes and they are all from Gwent and South Wales.

"Mid Wales' young offenders are held in institutions that are on average 127 miles from their homes and all of North Wales' juveniles are currently held over the border in England, on average 90 miles from their home.

"There are juvenile offenders from Pembrokeshire held near Newcastle, from Anglesey held in Yorkshire, from Wrexham held in Durham, from Flintshire held in Northumberland, from Cardiff held in Kent and from Swansea held in London. This is an absolute mess.

"It is quite clear that the Youth Justice and the Prison System is failing to cope and this is damaging Wales and the opportunities for our youngest offenders to turn their lives around.

"This Government urgently needs to rethink its act and I hope that the committee will speak its mind loudly and clearly early next year when we have finished our inquiry."

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