Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


184. The foregoing sections of this Report have dealt with issues raised by the generality of offenders and with the sentences which might be passed on them. But, as all those working in the criminal justice system are well aware, there are some groups of offender to which special attention needs to be given. This might be because—as noted in paragraph 14 above—there are claims that custodial sentences are particularly overused for that group, or because they have particular needs which must be taken into account for effective sentencing. We have had drawn to our particular attention in this inquiry three such groups: young offenders, drug misusers, and women offenders. We now make a number of observations about these groups (though we are aware that this selection is not exhaustive, with concerns being raised on occasion also about ethnic minority offenders and offenders with mental disorders).[225]

(i)  Young offenders

185. The Home Office's memorandum states that "youth crime is one of the most serious problems facing England and Wales".[226] In 1994, two out of every five known offenders were under the age of 21, and a quarter were under the age of 18; the latter group were responsible for an estimated 7 million crimes. It has been estimated that public services spend around £1 billion a year processing and dealing with offending by young people.[227] Addressing the needs of the youth justice system is a very substantial exercise in itself,[228] and has been the subject of a number of major initiatives and consultation exercise by the new Government, most of which have culminated in the proposals included in the Crime and Disorder Bill. In this Report we therefore limit ourselves to some comments on recent developments from the perspective of this inquiry.

Current community and other sentences for young people

186. A range of community sentences are available for children and young people. We described these sentences above at paragraphs 20-30, but the following table outlines their use with juveniles and young people:

Community sentences available to the courts to use with young offenders[229]

Community sentence

  Age range

Numbers made (1996)

Probation orders


1,600 males

 300 females

Community service



2,600 males

 200 females

Combination orders


1,000 males

Attendance centre orders[230]


4,256 males aged 10-17

 354 females aged 10-17

Supervision orders


7,400 males

1,100 females

Curfew orders


Not available

187. Fines and compensation orders may be made against young offenders in much the same way as adult offenders. Crown Court fines are unlimited, but in magistrates' and youth courts the maximum limits are £250 for 10-13 year olds and £1000 for 14-17 year olds. In 1996 4,200 fines were imposed on 10-17 year old males and 500 on 10-17 year old females. For offenders under the age of 16 the courts have a duty to order the parent or guardian of the offender to pay the fine and for 16-17 year olds the courts have a power, rather than a duty, to make the parents pay; in these instances it is the parents means which are assessed for the purposes of setting the fine.[231]

Custodial sentences and secure accommodation for young offenders

188. The availability of custodial sentences for young offenders is complex. For the most serious young offenders, section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 provides for 10-13 year olds convicted of murder or manslaughter, and those aged 14-17 convicted of offences for which adults could be imprisoned for 14 years, to be sentenced to determinate or indeterminate terms up to the maximum for the offence. 635 young people were sentenced under the 1933 Act in 1996. Once sentenced they may be held in a variety of different institutions, including local authority accommodation (secure or otherwise) and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs). Less serious offenders aged over 15 are also detained in YOIs.

189. Another sentence which is, in effect, a custodial sentence, is a supervision order with residence requirement. This can require an offender aged 10-17 to live in local authority accommodation, secure or not, for up to six months. Juveniles can be remanded to local authority accommodation, but can only be remanded to secure local authority accommodation on application by the authority.

190. A new form of secure accommodation for young offenders is the Secure Training Centre (STC), which provide places for young offenders aged 12 to 15 given secure training orders (STOs). STOs were provided for in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, becoming available to the courts in April 1998, with sentences between six months and two years duration. The previous Government announced that 5 STCs should be built; the first one, at Cookham Wood in Kent, opened earlier this year and two more, in Onley in Northamptonshire and in Medomsley in Co. Durham, are expected to open in 1999. The secure training order will be superseded by the detention and training order proposed in the Crime and Disorder Bill. Offenders subject to these orders will be held in STCs, local authority secure units or young offender institutes. It is not envisaged that they will be implemented before the summer of 1999.

191. Our focus in this report is alternatives to prison, so we do not intend to examine the provision of custodial sentences for young people. However, we must note the continuing concerns raised by sentencers that there is inadequate provision of secure places for young offenders.[232] Although a programme to expand the number of places was put in hand by the previous Government, the Home Office has estimated that the new places will not be sufficient to meet the demand.[233] A major consequence of this is that provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to allow courts to remand directly to secure local authority accommodation without having to await an application by the authority cannot be implemented because of the shortage of spaces.

192. A Home Office review of secure accommodation for juveniles concluded in July 1998[234] that "existing standards are inconsistent and often poor, costs vary considerably and there is no effective oversight or long term planning". In response, the Home Secretary said that "the need for a clear strategy to deal with this problem is ...vital. The main focus of our work will involve extending the role of the Youth Justice Board to include the commissioning and purchasing of secure accommodation for juveniles and work to improve the accommodation and regimes for juveniles held by the Prison Service." The Home Office also announced the establishment of a distinct juvenile estate within the Prison Service.[235]

193. It is essential that courts have the requisite powers to deal with young offenders and the appropriate range of sentences, and this undoubtedly includes a need for custodial sentences and secure accommodation for those young people who present the most serious threat to society. Quite apart from the direct danger to which the public can be subjected, it can damage public confidence in the use of non-custodial sentences in more appropriate cases. We note that the responsibilities of the Youth Justice Board are to be extended to include the commissioning of secure accommodation for juveniles and that it will work to improve this accommodation. We welcome this, but note the concerns expressed to us that there is insufficient secure accommodation for young people and urge the Government to rectify this.

Effectiveness in community sentences

194. We are pleased to acknowledge the innovative and exciting work we have seen on visits around the country which is being conducted with young offenders in the community. The Airborne Initiative in Lanarkshire, and Sherborne House in London were particularly interesting examples of work done in a residential and non-residential setting respectively.

195. The Airborne Initiative in South Lanarkshire is a limited company, registered as a charity, set up in 1994. It is funded partly by an annual grant from the Scottish Office administered by South Lanarkshire Council and partly by private donations. The company runs four nine-week residential courses each year for young male offenders aged between 18 and 25, with 10-20 trainees per course. Costs per trainee in the current year are estimated at £10,000 per annum, £7,000 of which falls to the taxpayer, but these figures are expected to fall to £8,500 and £5.000 respectively next year. The course is an alternative to a custodial sentence for high tariff offenders who are referred by the courts throughout Scotland as part of a probation order. A high proportion of initial referrals are not considered suitable when assessed by Airborne staff. The course aims to reduce offending behaviour by means of five main programmes:

196. Sherborne House Probation Centre in Bermondsey, South London, is managed by the Inner London Probation Service. It works with a similar group of offenders as Airborne: 16-20 year old offenders whose offending has placed them at risk of custody, either through seriousness or persistence. Offenders come from the whole of the Inner London area and are referred by probation teams and local authority youth justice teams and attend as a requirement of a probation order. Attendance is for ten weeks, four and a half days per week. The programme is over 70% groupwork based and consists of four key modules:

    (i)   offending behaviour work

    (ii)   life skills and advice

    (iii)   black self development, racism and discrimination

    (iv)  education, training and employment.

197. Sherborne House is also amongst the minority of probation programmes in having reconviction data for the offenders who have attended there. As we noted at paragraph 51, offenders at Sherborne House have been shown to have reconviction rates 15 per cent lower than would be predicted for such offenders. We welcome the fact that Sherborne House has been assessed for its effectiveness in terms of reconvictions and that it seems to have some success in reducing reconviction rates." Once again, we note that it is vital that all projects such as these are rigorously assessed in order to determine which elements of their work are most successful, with a view to replicating them elsewhere. We note that intensive work such as this is more expensive than conventional probation, but the possible savings, in terms of reduced offending in the future and less crime, and when compared to prison, make such schemes worthwhile, if their effectiveness can be proven.

Crime and Disorder Bill

198. The Crime and Disorder Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, contains a large number of measures which are aimed to tackle the problem of youth crime. The most important of these are:

199. The Bill also introduces Youth Offending Teams, the purpose of which is to pull together the various agencies—local authorities (social services, education and youth service), the probation service, the police and health authorities—which work with young offenders, or young people at risk of offending, to provide co-ordinated, multi-agency work. These teams will assess young people who offend and devise intervention programmes where this is thought necessary. Such intervention might include: counselling, group work, reparation action with victims, help with the young person's education/career prospects, and supervised leisure activities.[236] They will also be responsible for the supervision of community sentences made by the courts, including the new orders listed above. The Government also intends that the setting up of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales will provide a clearer national framework for action to be taken to tackle youth crime. The Board will monitor the operation of the youth justice system, advise ministers on changes needed and draw up standards for the work of the Youth Offending Teams.[237]

200. There has been widespread support for the Government's Bill and this was shared by our witnesses. Lord Bingham said he was supportive of the proposals in the Bill to do with young people "because they are trying to achieve what I have just been advocating, namely catching people young before they are embarked on a committed cycle of offending and they are directed towards rehabilitating rather than punishing and those both seem to me to be good". However, he did point out that "there is going to be a good deal of trial and error I suspect; nobody quite knows how these orders will work out".[238] Mrs Fuller, for the Magistrates' Association told us that the new orders "filled some of the worst gaps"[239] in the sentencing options for young offenders.

201. Professor Andrew Rutherford, Chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform, supported the proposals for reparation orders and parenting orders, but was critical of the overall package of changes in the Bill. He argued that "when one looks at the Crime and Disorder Bill one is struck by the proliferation of new orders that [the] Bill contains, of a whole variety of sorts, both civil and criminal, which is going to greatly confuse and complicate the penal scenery I think. We have some very good things already in place which are much envied by other countries, such as the community service order, such as the attendance centre.... Certainly the Howard League would urge the Committee to build upon what we have got and try to think of ways of making those penalties work more effectively rather than going down this route of simply adding to the proliferation, which is one of the features of the Bill that is now before Parliament".[240]

202. Another concern was raised by NAPO: "The Crime and Disorder Bill will give a number of new duties and responsibilities to the probation service and we welcome the opportunity to expand and get involved in new work, but fear that if those cuts are not redressed, re-analysed, we will not be able to fulfil our duties in this key priority".[241] Mr Graham Smith, the Chief Inspector of Probation, agreed that the Bill would create extra expenditure for the probation service and was not confident that new resources would be allocated to it to meet these new demands.[242] The Prisons and Probation Minister told us that: "the Government has said that the measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill need to be resourced, but a lot of resources I think are already in the budgets of these various organisations together".[243]

203. As already noted, a disproportionately large share of all crime is committed by young people under the age of 21, creating high costs for the criminal justice system in addition to the enormous effect—material and otherwise—of those crimes on the victims. The Home Office itself has described the juvenile custodial system as "chaotic and dysfunctional". We agree with the emphasis the Government has placed on this area of the system and we support the way in which the proposals in the Crime and Disorder Bill seek to address the problems by enhancing the range of non-custodial options open to the courts. We welcome the initiative to bring the various agencies involved together as Youth Offending Teams. We hope that such Teams will provide the infrastructure and the impetus to create more effective inter-agency work, allowing effective programmes to be identified and developed.

204. We are concerned that adequate resources be available for any extra burdens imposed by the new orders. We have already noted in this Report that extra funding will be available for probation services in the years to come, following the Comprehensive Spending Review, together with the doubts expressed by ACOP and NAPO as to whether this funding will be sufficient to fund fully the measures under the Crime and Disorder Bill. The Government has made fighting youth crime a priority and we applaud it for doing so. It would be unfortunate if the agencies charged with this fight—amongst which the probation service is in the vanguard—were unable to do so because of insufficient resources. We do not yet know whether this will be the case, but we will be expecting Ministers to monitor the situation closely.

225  The Home Office told us that "mentally disordered offenders who require specialist medical treatment should, wherever possible, receive it from the health and social services." They told us that from 1986 to 1996 the number of mentally disordered offenders admitted to secure psychiatric hospital accommodation trebled from 329 to 1,057. This was due largely to the number of offenders transferring from prison and hospital rising from 137 to 746 over the same period. (Appendix 1, paras 52-53). Back

226  Appendix 1, para 118. Back

227  Misspent Youth: Young people and Crime, Audit Commission, 1996, pp 5-6. Back

228  The Home Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament produced a substantial report on Juvenile Offenders as one of its first main studies (Sixth Report, 1992-93, HC 441) Back

229  Appendix 1, paras 44-48. Back

230  Maximum length of orders is 24 hours for 10-15 year olds and 36 hours for 16-20 year olds. Back

231  Appendix 1, paras 49-51. Back

232  See Q 548 (Mr Workman, a metropolitan stipendiary) and Q 549 (Mrs Fuller, for the Magistrates Association); the same point was made to us by a stipendiary magistrate during our visit to Manchester. Back

233  Cm 3809, para 6.7 (Nov 1997) Back

234  This was not available until after evidence-taking for this inquiry had been completed. Back

235  Home Office Press Release, 283,98, 22 July 1998. Back

236  New National and Local Focus on Youth Crime: A Consultation Paper, Home Office, October 1997. Back

237  Appendix 1, para 131. Back

238  Q 667. Back

239  Q 545. Back

240  Q 370. Back

241  Q 803. Back

242  Q 747-748. Back

243  Q 841. Back

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