One of the more impressive statistics of the past few years has been the reduction in the number of young people held in custody. For much of the first decade of this century the average number of children and young people held in custody (including 18 year-olds) averaged around the 3,000 mark for England and Wales. The peak year was 2002/03 when the average was 3,451. With a month to go in the 2012/13 financial year the latest figures show that the average number in custody is now down to 1,755 almost exactly half the average in the peak year a decade ago.
Even more impressive is the decline in the 10-14 age group held in custody, down from a peak of 236 in July 2005 to 54 in February 2013. The decline in the 14-17 age-groups in custody has been from a peak of 2,885 in June 2008 to 1,266 this February. These figures can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/youth-custody-data along with other useful data for those interested in the topic of youth custody. For instance, only 52 of those held in secure institutions are females compared with 1,268 young males. Some 765 of the young population are classified as ‘White’ compared with 506 from the BME and ‘other’ classifications. The reduction in the ‘White’ population in youth custody from a peak of over 2,000 has been much steeper than for the BME and ’other’ group where the peak was less than 800. There are clearly questions to be asked about the differential rate of decline in the custody population by ethnic group. One explanation may be geographic since 389 of the custody population come from London, the most racially mixed part of the country with the other urban areas outside of the North East also over-represented. One disappointing statistics is that 281 of the young people in custody were on remand. However, if the census was taken on a Friday it may be a proportion of these were on ‘warrants’ awaiting an appearance at a Saturday remand court. However, even this number is well down on the peak of almost 700 recorded in June 2008.
Hopefully, keeping these young people out of custody will also reduce the revolving door where one custodial sentence invariably leads on to another, especially for those handed down sentences of six months or less where support after custody is often insufficient if not non-existent.
Schools have a part to play in reducing exclusions since a large proportion of those in custody were as some point excluded from school. It may be no accident that youth custody rates were at their highest when secondary schools in urban areas were struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers. If there is a relationship between sufficient teachers and a reduction in youth crime then the DfE would do well to ensure we don’t slide towards another teacher supply crisis in the next couple of years.