In the Media

Youth custody review cuts imprisonment by 42%

PUBLISHED April 29, 2009

A pilot scheme to review youth imprisonment cases has cut the number of custodial sentences by 42%, a study revealed this week.

In a joint report on custody panels, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Local Government Association said the number of young people sentenced to custody in north Hampshire fell from 78 in 2007 to 45 in 2008 after a panel was set up to analyse cases where children were imprisoned.

The panel?s members are drawn from the voluntary sector and from the local authority?s youth offending team (YOT) and children?s services. Magistrates and judges declined to take part.

The panel examined cases where children had been sentenced to custody and considered what might have saved the convicted child from imprisonment. Lessons learned included writing pre-sentence reports so as to discourage the use of custody and encouraging YOTs and children?s services to work together to find an alternative to prison.

Rodney Warren, director of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and senior partner at East Sussex law firm Rodney Warren & Co, said the pilot scheme had taken a ?refreshing approach? of looking at the ?outcome? ? the long-term effects of custody on the child and society ? rather than concentrating simply on the process of trial and conviction.

?The UK imprisons far more people under 18 than any other country in western Europe. An initiative that allows defendants to avoid custody in favour of a practical and successful outcome must be a good thing.?

Jon Fayle, author of the report and a former head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, said the ?dramatic reduction? in children sentenced to custody shows what can be achieved with the ?determination and commitment of local authorities at a strategic and operational level?.

He regretted that magistrates and judges had declined to sit on the panel, but recognised their need to remain independent. ?It would be difficult sitting on a custody panel one day, and then sentencing a child you?d been discussing the next day.?