Juveniles in custody too costly, says watchdog

Nigel Morris,Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 21 January 2004 01:00

Dealing with a hardened juvenile offender can cost the taxpayer more than £150,000, with no guarantee that he or she will be put off a life of crime, a spending watchdog will warn today.

The Audit Commission spotlighted the case of "James'', a 15-year-old who was first in trouble with the police when aged 10. His two six-month spells in custody have cost £51,409 each, while court appearances and sessions with psychologists have cost a further £50,869. In total, his 23 contacts with the criminal justice system and social services have run up a bill of £153,687.

The real child on which "James" was based has since returned to custody for the third time, further increasing his cost to the state.

The Audit Commission suggested that if he had been offered more support in school and at home the taxpayer could have saved £110,000.

Meanwhile, police have gained new powers to crack down on unruly teenage behaviour. Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, a range of on-the-spot fines will be extended from adults to 16- and 17-year-old children for offences such as throwing fireworks and making hoax 999 calls.