“The most recent figures from the Youth Justice Board show that in excess of 4% more children and young people aged up to 18-years-old are within the secure estate, in comparison to 2016. With almost daily reports on the growing problems throughout the justice system, as well as last month’s stark warning from the Chief Inspector of Prisons that ‘a tragedy is inevitable’ due to youth custody centres being so unsafe, urgent action to address rising youth custody levels is needed now.
“Stemming the flow of children and young people going into the criminal justice system is vital. It is encouraging to see that the number of police arrests of children and young people aged 17 years and under has fallen by 64% over the past six years. This is a preventative step in the right direction. A relentless focus upon rehabilitation must now urgently follow to address the destructive cycle of offending that some young people get caught up in and struggle to get out of. By putting resettlement at the heart of a custodial sentence, young people can take the critical steps they need to move on from crime, identify and achieve their goals, and flourish in our communities.
“At Nacro, we work across the country with offenders and those with previous convictions, who often have complex needs, supporting them to build positive and independent futures. We never give up. Time and time again, Nacro staff have seen young offenders living in our supported housing, or those we have helped through skills education and training, turn their back on a life of crime after being given a chance to do better.
“A report from our policy and research programme, Beyond Youth Custody, found overwhelming evidence that the majority of children and young people in custody come from disadvantaged families and communities, with experiences of childhood trauma such as neglect and abuse. Failing to identify trauma and mental health concerns at the earliest opportunity means pre-existing issues will get worse during time in custody. This leads to the type of dysfunctional behaviour that causes repeat offending. BYC research also found that effective resettlement is a process that supports a shift in a young person’s personal identity, which starts with an acceptance of offending behaviour and moves towards an eventual point where offending has ceased and the young person has a more future-oriented and positive sense of self. Activities designed to achieve this will vary according to specific needs and circumstances for each young person but could include mental health support and therapy to deal with existing and current trauma, education and careers-focused learning to help young people identify and work towards their aspirations, and practical resilience training. This helps to equip young people to deal with difficulties and setbacks, learn from them, move forward and thrive.
“We cannot afford to wait for an ‘inevitable tragedy’ before action is taken. Sharing expertise, joint working and partnership with government and organisations across the sector must start now to address this issue head on.”