1.The youth justice population has changed significantly in the past 10 years, thus changing demands on the youth justice system. The number of children and young people (aged 10–17) entering the system has decreased by 85% since March 2009. This is a welcome development, with the practice of diverting children away from formal criminal justice processes a substantial factor in achieving it: there is consensus that non-custodial sentences contribute to better outcomes for children. Although significantly fewer children enter the system, the proportion from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds is not decreasing at the same pace as that of White children.
2.The cohort entering the system has become concentrated on those with more complex needs. Young offenders tend to be imprisoned for much more serious offences than used to be the case, particularly for offences involving violence against the person where there has been a 10.3 percentage point increase between March 2009 and 2019. Additionally, average custodial sentence lengths have increased by six months from 11.4 months to 17.7 months over the last decade and proven reoffending rates for children remain high.
3.Various aspects of the system have been reviewed in the last five years, most notably in the 2016 Taylor Review which recommended extensive reform. Following that review, the Government set out plans to reform the approach to youth justice. Further to that, the 2017 Lammy Review raised significant concerns about race disproportionality. In the years since those reports, outcomes for children and young people do not appear to have significantly improved, and progress on implementing key reforms has been slow. We acknowledge that proposals in the current White Paper on Sentencing may provide further opportunities to divert young people from entering the youth custody system.
4.Our inquiry into Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System was launched in July 2019, with the following terms of reference:
The Youth Justice Population and entering the system
How has the young offender population changed and what are the challenges in managing this group?
a)What are the characteristics of those entering the youth justice system and how has the mix of offences committed by young people changed?
b)What is the experience of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic offenders of the youth justice system and secure estate and what progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the Lammy Review?
c)How effective is the youth justice system in diverting children and young people away from custody and what more needs to be done?
d)Is the current minimum age of criminal responsibility too low and should it be raised?
Suitability of the Secure Estate
Is the secure estate a fit and proper place to hold children and young people?
a)What impact has the changing nature of the population had on the management of the secure estate?
b)What does a good quality custodial place for a child or young person look like and is there sufficient provision across England and Wales?
c)What is the physical condition of the secure estate and is it an appropriate environment to hold children and young people?
d)Do staff receive appropriate training and support and what more can be done to improve this?
e)What other barriers are there to providing safe and decent accommodation in the secure estate and what more can be done to improve this?
f)Is the use of force in the secure estate proportionate and properly monitored?
g)How does the experience of children and young adults differ across the different types of secure custody and what lessons can be learnt ahead of the opening of the new secure schools?
Resettlement and rehabilitation children and young people
Is sufficient support available in the secure estate and community to ensure that children and young people do not reoffend and if not, what more should be done?
a)Are children and young people able to access purposeful activity, education, healthcare and other support as needed whilst in custody?
b)Is there good collaboration between the secure state, Youth Offending Teams, Local Authorities, Social Services and other relevant organisations?
c)Is there effective release planning to ensure that children and young people have access to accommodation, training and education upon release and what more can be done to ensure they do not reoffend?
d)What mechanisms exist to transition young people from the youth to the young adult/adult estate? What challenges does this raise and is more support required?
5.Nearly 60 written submissions were received before the 2019 general election, but time did not permit oral evidence sessions. We have held four sessions since the new Committee decided to resume its predecessor’s inquiry and are grateful to all who provided evidence.
6.This is the first report of two on the subject of Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System. This report looks at changes to the population and entry into the system, focusing on diversion from formal criminal justice processing and youth courts. The second report will examine the suitability of the custodial estate and resettlement of children from prison to the community.