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Examine recent trends in the use of custody in respect of juveniles over the last two decades, and consider the effectiveness of incarceration in relation to the problem of crime.

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"Present government strategy for dealing with youth crime is centred on the use of custodial sentences" (Sale, 2002). This assignment will examine juvenile custodial trends, including statistical data and political issues, considering the arguments for and against the effectiveness of incarceration in relation to the problem of crime. The practice of holding young teenagers on remand in adult prisons overrides widely spoken belief (rhetoric) about the negative impact of jails on young people (Harker, 2002). For more than 20 years there has been concern about the use of custody for young boys, exacerbated by a series of scandals involving bullying and suicides. Despite evidence that prison conditions are conducive to abuse, self-injury and further criminal activity, successive governments have allowed the number of teenagers held in prison on remand to rise. The implementation of two new statutes; the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (1999) have resulted in an overhaul of the youth justice system in England and Wales. Under the 1998 Act, the aim of the youth justice system is defined as: "preventing offending by young people" (www.howard.league.org.uk). The new system is underpinned by an emphasis on early intervention and greater inter-agency working. An example of inter-agency working is the introduction of Youth Offending Teams to each Local Authority area. Implemented in April 2000, Youth Offending Teams include professionals from the probation service, social workers, police officers, education and health staff. The Local Authority may call upon other agencies to provide specific services as required; for example local agencies specialising in drug and alcohol addiction, mental health charities and mentoring projects - this gives scope for the involvement of and participation by a number of multi-disciplines (Pitts, 1999). ...read more.


Under the Convention, children are defined as persons aged under eighteen years. Ratified by the UK in 1991, it is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights - civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural (www.unicef.org/uwwide/index.html). In 1997, the Chief Inspector of Prisons conducted a damning review of conditions and treatment of young prisoners and concluded that under 18 year olds should not be held in the prison system. The government did not accept this recommendation. Instead, the Prison Service designated certain institutions, or wings of institutions as exclusively for juveniles (under 18 year olds), with improved regimes to take account of the particular needs of adolescents. Once a child is given a custodial sentence, the Youth Justice Board decided where they will be placed - in prison, in a secure training centre or a local authority secure unit - based on availability of places, the age and vulnerability of the child. Reconviction rates for children leaving prison are very high. 85% of all 14-16 year olds released from prison in 1996 were reconvicted within two years, and 62% reoffended so seriously they re-entered custody (www.howard.league.org). A pledge to phase out the use of custody for teenagers, first made by the Conservative government in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and repeated by successive home secretaries, has had little impact on practice. Indeed, the picture looks considerably worse a decade on: the numbers have increased three-fold since 1991 (Harker, 2002). Indeed, when asked how he planned to respond to the growing prison population, Labour's Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw, answered that prisons were a 'demand-led service' and that if the bench chose to impose custodial sentences it was his job to provide the cells (Pitts, 1999, p.18). ...read more.


It remains to be seen in what ways, and to what extent, the reforms of the youth justice system and the creation of Youth Offending Teams will impact upon current trends of reoffending behaviour. The monitoring role of the Youth Justice Board and a requirement that Youth Offending Teams submit quarterly returns will, however, ensure the availability of more detailed and more recent statistical information to inform future policy and practice for those working within the youth justice system. It is widely believed by penal reform groups that children should not be incarcerated in prisons where the environment can be damaging and, if imprisoned, they should only be held under extreme circumstances and housed in secure accommodation. Insofar as the effectiveness of incarceration in relation to the problem of crime, it is argued that prison is an ineffective practice in terms of reducing offending and furthermore, there is a danger that if the number of children sentenced to custody continues to rise, younger children may end up in prison. To combat this, resources should be directed towards non-custodial alternatives that can then be targeted towards the individual needs of each child. Imprisoning more and more people is not the answer to our high crime rate, but restorative justice may be. Tony Blair has recently announced more reparation schemes and if these are what many young offenders need, it must surely beg the question - why go to the (arguably) counter-productive expense of sending them to prison first? Reparation has been tried in many western countries and even where it produced no change in reconvictions it is considered worthwhile for the sake of improved treatment of victims. Although not suitable for every case, in New Zealand, where it has been pioneered for 10 years, for all juvenile offences except homicide research has shown a reduction in reoffending rates. ...read more.

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