Nine charts and tables on children in UK courts and prisonsPosted: October 22, 2015
Good and bad news for young people in trouble
The state of the youth justice system in the United Kingdom has been laid bare in a new report by the National Association of Youth Justice (NAYJ), which campaigns for a child-friendly youth justice system. The charts and tables below tell the story, much of it positive.
The good news first
There are far fewer young people in British prisons. Between 2008-14, the number of children receiving a formal youth justice sanction has fallen by almost three-quarters.
“A reduction in the criminalisation of children and a shift towards a reduced reliance on incarceration” has helped – NAYJ
During the past 15 years, there has been a two-thirds reduction in the number of children sentenced to detention as the chart below shows.
In 2014, there were 1,860 children sentenced to detention representing a fall of 20 per cent by comparison with the previous 12 months and a 76 per cent reduction from the highpoint in 1999.
There are also fewer young people being held on remand as the chart below shows.
In 2010/11, remands accounted for 26 per cent of children in custody. In June 2015, 986 children were detained in the secure estate of whom 207 (21 per cent) were remanded.
Fewer first time entrants
A focus on reducing the number of children who enter the criminal justice system for the first time – so called first time entrants (FTEs) – has played a large part in the shrinking of the youth justice estate.
The number of first time entrants rose between 2002/3 and 2006/7 by almost one third. But between 2006/7 and 2013/14, the number of first time entrants fell by almost 80 per cent from 110,757 to 22,393
Fewer children in the system
There are considerable difficulties in ascertaining the extent of children’s criminal activity, but one way is to look at the level of victimisation. The British Crime Survey has shown a reduction in crime experienced by young people in recent years.
While there has been some fluctuation over the period, the number of crimes experienced by children aged 10-15 years fell by more than 20 per cent between 2010 and 2014. This table shows the fall in detected offending among young people from 2010-14.
The 10-17 year-old age group has seen a 58 per cent fall in offending while that for 18-20 year-olds is down 20 per cent.
As much crime is committed by children against children, this trend fits with the declining number of children in prison.
There is also much media hype about “gangs” and knives, but the reality is that most crime committed by children involves property. There is relatively little violent crime among young people.
Most crime by young people involves theft or drugs. Relatively few involve violence or weapons. As there are fewer crimes, there are also fewer children being arrested as the chart below shows.
The number of children arrested for a notifiable offence rose between 2002/03 and 2006/07, but began to fall sharply thereafter leading to a reduction of 68 per cent by 2013/14.
As fewer children are being arrested, fewer are also appearing in court due to pre-trial interventions that lead to alternative outcomes.
During 2014, 29,800 children received a substantive disposal for an indictable offence compared with 143,600 in 1992, a reduction of more than 79 per cent.
But it’s not all good news
While the reduction of children being arrested, sent to court and imprisoned is to be welcomed, there is still much to be done in other areas.
The NAYJ says it “remains concerned that responses to children in trouble with the law continue to be tempered by an underlying punitive ethos that might render recent gains vulnerable to reversal.”
Young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people still appear to suffer discrimination at the hands of the justice system. Part of this may be because the communities from which they derive are disproportionately poor and poor people account for the majority of prisoners.
Almost two times as many black children come to the attention of the youth justice system as would be expected given the composition of the general youth population.
Between 2009/10 and 2013/14, the proportion of all children subject to a substantive youth justice disposal classified as white fell from 83.5 per cent to 74.5 per cent with a corresponding rise in the representation of minority children.
Black and mixed heritage children were particularly overrepresented among those receiving custodial sentences: while those two groups made up 12.9 per cent of the youth offending population, they accounted for more than one four of those receiving a custodial sentence and 38 per cent of those sentenced to more than two years. The latter proportion is almost six times as high as would be anticipated given the composition of the general population.
And those young people who are in prison are more vulnerable than ever. More are self-harming, suffering assault or being physically restrained as the table below shows.
Rates of violence within custodial institutions have escalated as the imprisoned population has dropped. In 2013/14 rates of assault, self-harm and episodes of physical restraint were all considerably higher than five years earlier.
So what needs to be done?
The NAYJ says it celebrates “the considerable recent advances that have been made in keeping children out of prison”, but believes that:
“child imprisonment remains too high and that incarceration is still not used as ‘a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’ as required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”
In particular in points to:
- Inhumane sentences: statutory provisions in England and Wales continue to permit ‘inhumane’ sentencing of children through the maximum length of detention available. The maximum penalty available is identical to the adult term. More shamefully, perhaps, children can be subjected to sentences of life imprisonment; indeed where a child is convicted of murder, such a punishment is mandatory. This contrasts sharply with the situation in the rest of Europe.
- Geographical lottery: children in some areas have a higher likelihood of imprisonment than those in other parts of the country, suggesting that further reductions in at least some areas are possible.
- Increasingly vulnerable prisoners: between 2008/9 and 2013/4, the proportion of boys in custody with a history of local authority care rose from 24 per cent to one third. Moreover, this group was more likely to report having problems with substance misuse and experiencing emotional and mental difficulties than those without care experience.
There are more detailed concerns that can be read in the full report.
What do you think?
Please let us know if you have any comments on the above or any related youth justice issues.