Justice Committee: Children & Young People in Custody
Dr Jo Staines, Senior Lecturer in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol contributed written evidence to the Justice Committee inquiry.
The youth justice population has changed significantly in the past 10 years, thus changing demands on the youth justice system. Although significantly fewer children enter the system, the proportion from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds is not decreasing at the same pace as that of White children. This inquiry sought views on how the young offender population has changed and what the challenges are in managing this group.
Background to the inquiry
Background to the inquiry
1. The youth justice population has changed significantly in the past 10 years, thus changing demands on the youth justice system. The number of children and young people (aged 10–17) entering the system has decreased by 85% since March 2009. This is a welcome development, with the practice of diverting children away from formal criminal justice processes a substantial factor in achieving it: there is consensus that non-custodial sentences contribute to better outcomes for children. Although significantly fewer children enter the system, the proportion from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds is not decreasing at the same pace as that of White children.
2. The cohort entering the system has become concentrated on those with more complex needs. Young offenders tend to be imprisoned for much more serious offences than used to be the case, particularly for offences involving violence against the person where there has been a 10.3 percentage point increase between March 2009 and 2019. Additionally, average custodial sentence lengths have increased by six months from 11.4 months to 17.7 months over the last decade and proven reoffending rates for children remain high.
3. Various aspects of the system have been reviewed in the last five years, most notably in the 2016 Taylor Review which recommended extensive reform. Following that review, the Government set out plans to reform the approach to youth justice. Further to that, the 2017 Lammy Review raised significant concerns about race disproportionality. In the years since those reports, outcomes for children and young people do not appear to have significantly improved, and progress on implementing key reforms has been slow. We acknowledge that proposals in the current White Paper on Sentencing may provide further opportunities to divert young people from entering the youth custody system.
4. Our inquiry into Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System was launched in July 2019, with the following terms of reference:
5. Nearly 60 written submissions were received before the 2019 general election, but time did not permit oral evidence sessions. We have held four sessions since the new Committee decided to resume its predecessor’s inquiry and are grateful to all who provided evidence.
6. This is the first report of two on the subject of Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System. This report looks at changes to the population and entry into the system, focusing on diversion from formal criminal justice processing and youth courts. The second report will examine the suitability of the custodial estate and resettlement of children from prison to the community.
Full information about the inquiry can be found here.
Response to the inquiry
The following guidance and reccomendations were submitted by Dr Staines in response to the inquiry call for evidence.
The first report published can be found here.
Further updates to the guidance are published on the consultation page.