Doom and gloom
Sometimes it’s hard not to be swayed by the media coverage of a subject.
I think most people could be forgiven if when asked about the state of our youth justice system, they answered “a disgrace” and cited such things as:
- Systemic abuse at Medway Secure Training Centre.
- The government’s reluctance to implement Lord Harris’ recommendations to reduce the number of children killing themselves in custody.
- Little or no detail or funding commitment to replace youth custody with secure schools.
However, take a proper look at the youth justice statistics for 2014/15 (published on 28 January 2016) and suddenly you find there are many reasons to be more optimistic.
Below are some of the key statistics.
Reasons to be cheerful
The number of arrests of young people fell by 13% between the years ending March 2014 and March 2015. This continues the downward trend seen since the peak in arrests in the year ending March 2007. Since the peak it has fallen by 73%.
Police issued 20,080 youth cautions in the year, a decrease of 22% on the year ending March 2014, and a decrease of 81% on the 106,403 given in the year ending March 2005.
Young people were convicted of 4% fewer proven offences (those resulting in a caution or conviction) than the year before, a 70% decrease since the year ending March 2005.
In the year ending March 2015 there were 20,544 first time entrants to the youth justice system, a fall of 9% in the last year and a fall of 82% since the peak number of FTEs.
The number of young people sentenced to immediate custody fell by 19% between the years ending March 2014 and March 2015 (from 2,260 to 1,834). This number has fallen by 70% since the year ending March 2005, when 6,127 young people were sentenced to immediate custody.
The average population of young people in custody in the year ending March 2015 was 1,037. The average population in custody has reduced by 15% in the last year, and by 65% from the peak in the year ending March 2008
Although there were only two negative statistics, they are of considerable concern. Firstly, the disproportionate representation of Black and Minority Ethnic young people at every stage of the system — we will have to wait and see whether David Lammy’s review has any impact on this continuing source of shame.
The second disappointment was an increase in arrests and convictions for violent offences against the general downwards trend of falling crime.
While there are plenty of things to complain about in our justice system, it seems churlish not to celebrate the continuing fall in youth crime and the reduction in the numbers of young people drawn into the system.
Unlike the overall crime figures where the drop may be at least partly be explained by the move of crime online, it seems unlikely that the same trend is so pronounced for young offenders and therefore the shrinking of youth crime seems to be a real and important development.