Ali Crossley is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and author of their recent publication on youth justice, Rules of Engagement: changing the heart of youth justice (pdf). The CSJ can be followed on Twitter: @CSJ_thinktank.
This week the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published a major review of the youth justice system in England and Wales. We called for a drastic reduction in the number of children (over 5,000) who are needlessly dumped in prison each year and set out a bold new approach to cut crime. In the report, Rules of Engagement, we identify four key youth justice failures.
First, the youth justice system is functioning as a ‘backstop’: sweeping up the cases that other local services, such as schools and children’s social care, have not addressed. For instance, too many children are ending up in the youth justice system because opportunities are missed to intervene when parents are involved in the criminal justice system. To change this local services must work together to ensure that young people and their families receive help to prevent entry into the youth justice system and, if already involved, the support to deliver their rehabilitation.
Second, the system promotes rather than reduces offending. Prison is used as a dumping ground for the non-violent and repeat offending children who do not need to be there. Their incarceration is a reflection of the inadequacy of services in the community, which have failed to address the root causes of their behaviour. Whilst sentences must be tough and meaningful, confining children to grim regimes creates obedient prisoners, not law-abiding citizens. That gives us immense problems as a society. Further, decisions to release children on a Friday, without money and with no address, act as a catalyst for crime. Greater efforts must be made to ensure that prison is reserved only for the ‘critical few’: the most violent and prolific offenders from whom the public require protection. Prison regimes and post-release arrangements must maximise the potential for rehabilitation.