£283m for youth custody 'wasted'

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Indy Politics

The £283m bill for locking up young offenders is largely wasted, with the vast majority committing new crimes when they are released, MPs warned yesterday.

The £283m bill for locking up young offenders is largely wasted, with the vast majority committing new crimes when they are released, MPs warned yesterday.

In a damning survey of the youth justice system, the Commons Public Accounts Committee also said teenage offenders faced problems finding jobs, housing or education when they were released.

Last year the police dealt with about 268,000 offences committed by people under 18, with the courts imposing 93,200 sentences, including some 6,500 spells in custody.

But the committee discovered that 80 per cent of the teenagers who were locked up were reconvicted within two years, prompting it to warn: "Short periods of custody are unlikely to make an impact on offending behaviour, nor help offenders gain the qualifications often necessary for a change in lifestyle."

The MPs found that it can cost as much as £185,780 a year to detain teenagers at local authority secure children's homes, where vulnerable youngsters at risk of self-harm are housed. Places cost £164,000 at secure training centres operated by private companies and £50,800 at young offender institutions operated by the prison service.

The Youth Justice Board spends 72 per cent of its £394m budget on custody, even though only 7 per cent of child offenders are sentenced to detention.

The MPs also noted a severe shortage of accommodation in the south of England, with the result that teenagers were transferred around.

"Some offenders may be placed in institutions far from their families and pressure on places can lead to frequent transfers as offenders are moved around the country to free up space in local establishments. These transfers disrupt work to rehabilitate offenders," the MPs warned.

They said the lack of a "joined-up approach" between different government bodies meant there were problems finding education, jobs or suitable housing for teenagers trying to re-integrate into society upon their release.

The committee also warned that the Government's new intensive supervision community programmes, which impose curfews and up to 25 hours a week of education and therapy on offenders, were not working, with half of youngsters failing to complete them and around one-quarter being returned to custody.

Edward Leigh, the committee chairman, said: "The finding that eight out of 10 young offenders sentenced to custody later re-offend underlines that locking up these offenders is only part of the answer.

"I am concerned that the proportion of young offenders given custodial sentences varies significantly across the country."

Rob Allen, director of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment think-tank, said: "This is yet more evidence that we need to develop robust alternatives to custody which cost a great deal less and can be just as effective, if not more so."

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