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The state of youth justice (2023)
young offenders
The Youth Justice Statistics for 2021/22 provide some glimmers of hope as well as ongoing challenges.

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Annual Youth Justice Statistics

Last week’s publication (26 January 2023) of the annual youth justice statistics (for 2021/22) provide, in the words of Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board (YJB), “ a glimmer of hope”. A number of positive long-term trends continue; the two most important being:

  • the number of children entering the justice system for the first time reached another all-time low, of just over 8000 children
  • the number of children in custody was, on average, 450 – the lowest figure on record

Reoffending has also decreased to the lowest rate on record but we know the data is likely to have been impacted by pandemic restrictions, so we must wait until next year to see a truer picture of reoffending as the data will cover a time period when major social distancing restrictions were not in place.

Racial disparity

Much more surprisingly, it may be that the work undertaken by the YJB and its partners to try to tackle the racial disparity in the youth justice system is starting to have some impact. There are a number of statistics in the annual report which show small, but measurable, progress:

  • Black children were involved in 16% of stop and searches (where ethnicity was known). This was a decrease of two percentage points from the previous year.
  • the proportion of children entering the justice system from a Black background has decreased from 18% to 16%
  • the proportion of children in youth custody who are Black reduced from 29% to 28%
  • Black children make up a slightly smaller proportion (20%) of sentenced indictable offences compared to four years ago (21%)

The chart reproduced below shows arrests of children by ethnicity over the last eleven years.

Knife crime

There is also positive news on knife crime. The number of offences involving a knife or offensive weapon committed by adults increased by 6% in the last year, but for children it fell by 2% in the year and is 3% lower than ten years ago. This is the fourth consecutive year-on-year decrease for children.

The vast majority (97%) of these knife or offensive weapon offences committed by children were possession offences. While there is, of course, concern regarding any child carrying or using a weapon, it is nevertheless very welcome news to see fewer children receiving a caution or sentence for such an offence.

Challenges remain

However, it is not all good news.

Delays to court proceedings continue to affect children in the system, with an average time from offence to receiving an outcome (sentence/acquittal/other) at a huge 217 days. These delays are very stressful for children, their families and, of course the victims of these crimes. Importantly, they also reduce the opportunities for the children who have committed these crimes to tack action to turn their lives around.

Another areas of concern is that average custodial sentence lengths have increased by six months., Although this increase is probably at least partially attributable to the fact that more serious cases are now being heard after COVID-19 restrictions lifted, it is still a serious issue given the continued issues facing the youth secure estate.

Remand

Last week’s adult Offender Management Statistics revealed the significant problem of increasing remands in the adult system. Between June 2016 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the remand population was under 10,000. Since the start of the pandemic, it has increased and this quarter’s figure of 14,143 is 11% higher than in December 2021. Recent industrial action by barristers is likely to have also contributed to this figure. The untried prison population rose by 12% (to 9,306) when compared to the end of December 2021 whilst the convicted unsentenced population rose by 8% (to 4,837) over the same period.

The picture is even worse for children in custody. Last year, 40% of children in custody were on remand, this figure has now increased to 45%. Sadly, most children on remand are from an ethnic minority group (58%). And appallingly still almost three quarters (73%) of children on remand did not receive a subsequent custodial sentence. That means hundreds of children are still needlessly experiencing the trauma and stigma that comes with custody, being held often more than 100 miles away from their families and support networks.

The YJB is trying to tackle this issue and 2023 will see the first home open as part of the YJB-funded London Accommodation Pathfinder this year. The homes will provide supported accommodation for children facing remand or custodial detention and it is hoped that they will be a first step in providing an alternative model which can bring down the number of children held on remand in custody whilst providing better outcomes for children and therefore greater public protection in the long run.

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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