A landmark report has called for the introduction of restorative justice across England and Wales to halve the current number of juveniles in custody.
The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour, reports that restorative justice in Northern Ireland should provide the model for major changes to the youth justice system.
The commission, which carried out an 18-month study into alternative responses to youth crime, concludes that restorative meetings known as “youth conferencing” are the way to deliver better justice for the victims of crime, while cutting re-offending rates and custody numbers.
Its report, Time for a Fresh Start, estimates the cost of dealing with youth crime and anti-social behaviour as being more than £4bn each year. It also argues that many millions of pounds are being wasted each year on custody for under-18s with each place costing taxpayers between £69,000 and £193,000 a year, but as many as three out of four young offenders are being re-convicted within a year of completing their sentence.
The commission sets a target for the current use of custody to be halved to fewer than 1,000 young offenders at any one time without adding to crime rates or compromising public safety. And it urges a significant reinvestment of resources in early intervention to tackle serious anti-social behaviour among children, prevent later offending and save more money for the taxpayer.
Anthony Salz, who chaired the commission, said:
Continually tinkering with the response to youth crime over a quarter of a century has contributed to its growing incoherence. “Investment in proven, cost-effective, preventive interventions has been too low and children at risk of becoming prolific and serious offenders have missed out on timely help. “Worse still, those who do become chronic offenders in their teens are treated in ways that do little to help them return to lead law-abiding adult lives – and may even serve to deepen their offending.
The report also calls for an end to the long-running “arms race” between politicians attempting to sound tougher on youth crime. Another key recommendation is that anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) should only be sought against children and young people as a last resort.
Our reform proposals are positive and constructive in promoting cost-effective prevention; they are fair to the victims of crime in seeking redress and they are demanding on young offenders who will be made more aware of the human consequences of criminal and anti-social behaviour, Salz added.
We need a fresh start to turn round the damaged lives of children and young people who risk becoming our most serious and prolific offenders and to spare society the unacceptably high costs of failure.
This article is written by Neil Puffett and originally appeared in the Youth Justice section of Children & Young People Now on 15 July 2010