Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Youth custody figures on the rise again

After a big fall in youth custody since 2008, the number of locked up children has been steadily rising since November 2016.

Even more BAME children in custody

In April this year, there were 940 children aged under 18 years in custody in England and Wales. That’s the highest figure since November 2015 and an increase of  13% from the low of 829 in December 2016.

97 per cent of these children are boys (913/940) and almost three quarters (72.3%) are in YOIs, one in six (17%) in Secure Training Centres and one in nine (10.6%) in Secure Children’s Homes. While more than half (54.1%) are aged 17, over a quarter (28%) are 16 years old, one in eight (12.8%) 15 and the remaining 48 individuals (5.1%) aged between 10 and 14 years old.

The Lammy Report publicised the very high proportion of children in custody who are from BAME backgrounds and this figure has become even more shocking since Lammy. The figures for April 2018 are the most disproportionate ever with just 50% children in custody from a White background and 48.1% from a BAME background (ethnicity was not recorded for the other 18 individuals), despite people from BAME backgrounds making up just 14% of the general population.

The average youth custody population this century peaked at 3,052 in 2002/3, dropped to 868 in 2016/17 and is now back up to 940 at the start of 2018/19. While the number of girls in custody continues to fall with just  27 this April compared to 30 in April 2017, 115 in April 2012 and 197 in April 2007, the number of boys incarcerated has jumped from 806 in December 2016 to 913 this April.

The proportion of children on remand has increased steadily over the last fifteen years. While those on remand made up more than a quarter (27.3%) of the total custody population in April this year, this compared to 20.3% in 2015/16 and just 15.8% in 2005/6.

The proportion of young prisoners from London has leveled off over the years; despite increasing from 23.2% in April 2009 (the first year to give region of YOT in this dataset) to 30.1% in  April 2013, it remained almost the same at 30.2% this April, despite the well-publicised concerns over knife crime and increased custodial sentences for weapons offences for adults. Over the same time period, the proportion of young Welsh prisoners has more than halved from 6.2% in April 2009 to 2.7% this April, while the proportion of young prisoners from the North-East has also fallen from 4.2% in April 2009 to 3% this April.


It is not clear what is driving this rise in the rate of young people’s incarceration and although the upwards trend is slow it has persisted now for almost two and a half years. Having a clear understanding of the reasons for this rise and a reliable prediction of youth custody rates over the next few years will be critical for the MoJ if it is serious about developing its vision of secure schools.

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