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Humfrey Malins MP: Only comprehensive reform of Young Offender Institutions will cut re-offending rates

Picture 1 Humfrey Malins is MP for Woking and a Crown Court Recorder.

Today the Bow Group is kindly publishing my new pamphlet, Revolving Door. My experiences in the Courts over many years have made me increasingly concerned about the value for money of our Young Offender Institutions. 

The cost of a place in one of these is well over £30,000 per year and, in terms of re-offending rates, they are a dismal failure.  For example, 79% of 16 year-olds released from Young Offender Institutions in 2006 re-offended within one year, committing an average of 4.3 offences each. 

Of course, in reality the situation is far worse, because only perhaps 20%-25% of crimes are actually detected in the first place.  So in effect the taxpayer spends over £30,000, and in return is left with youngsters who go on to commit perhaps twenty crimes within a year.  Quite aside from all the moral and social issues involved, Young Offender Institutions provide appalling value for money.

Key reasons for this failure of Young Offender Institutions to curb crime are the lack of emphasis at Young Offender Institutions on education; the lack of sport and in particular team sport; and the high number of hours young people spend each day locked up doing nothing constructive.

Before you read on, have a think yourself about how long an institutionalised youngster should spend per week in education.  Five hours per day perhaps, making 25 in a five-day week?  In fact, my research identified three Young Offender Institutions where inmates spend five hours or less on education per week.  The average is just under ten hours.  By contrast, the average young offender Institution keeps inmates locked up in their cell for 107 hours per week. 

So inmates are being locked up alone with other young criminals for ten times as long as they are being educated.  Is it any wonder that re-offending rates are so high?

To improve their effectiveness and reduce re-offending, I suggest Young Offender Institutions take the following actions:

  • Assess a young offender thoroughly on admission and work out an individual plan in relation to education, literacy and numeracy. Set targets;
  • Guarantee a minimum of 25 hours per week education for the young offender in custody;
  • Make attendance at education classes compulsory for under 16s;
  • For over 16s, make early release in part dependent on progress and effort in education and training;
  • Ensure that no young offender spends more than twelve hours a day locked up in cells;
  • Ensure that every young offender spends ten hours a week sport, including team sport, and has an opportunity to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

One additional conclusion I come to is that short sentences (anything under twelve months) are a complete waste of time.  No course of activities that would seriously curb re-offending can be completed in such a short space of time. Any offence not worth twelve months should be dealt with by a community punishment. 

A comprehensive re-settlement programme is also important, with a re-settlement wing in every Young Offender Institution to ensure that on release youngsters go to decent housing, a job, or continuing education.  If we don’t have an effective re-settlement policy inevitably it will mean the “revolving door”.


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