Young people in custody: all too depressing

At the beginning of August, the DfE together with the Ministry of Justice, published what is described as ‘a joint experimental statistics report’ on ‘Understanding the educational background of young offenders’. The report makes depressing, but possibly not unexpected reading. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/understanding-the-educational-background-of-young-offenders-summary-report

The results are from a data sharing project between the DfE and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), conducted in 2015. The analysis is of those young offenders sentenced in 2014 matched to DfE data.

Not all young people with the observed characteristics either offend or, if offending, are sentenced to one or more periods of custody. There is no causal relationship between any lack of education progress and offending, but those that offend are more likely than not to have below average educational outcomes regardless of their actual ability.

This lack of educational progress, although apparent by the end of Key Stage 2 for the cohort studied in this exercise, is magnified when students reach secondary school. The largest gap between the outcome for all pupils and those that became young offenders was in ‘writing’ at Key Stage 2 and the smallest gap was in ‘reading at this Key Stage.

By Key Stage4, although the majority of young offenders in the study did achieve a pass in something at Key Stage 4, no more than 7%  of young person sent into custody achieved 5 A*-Cs including English and mathematics, using the grading then in place for these subjects. The most depressing figure is that just one per cent of the 399 individuals sent into a short period of custody achieved the 5 A*-Cs outcome including English and mathematics.

A third of young offenders receiving custody of longer than twelve months when age 16 or 17 on their sentence date were ‘looked after children’ on the 31st March 2014.

Even more depressing is the very high percentages of young offenders with a record of persistent absence from school, presumably mostly in their secondary school careers. Apart from those sentenced to Referral Orders and Cautions that are likely to be first time entrants into the criminal justice system, all other categories had more than 90% of the group with a record of persistent absence, peaking at 94% for those with custodial sentences of less than six months. This group also top the percentage that had been subject to a permanent exclusion.

At the period this study was undertaken ‘off-rolling’ and home educating of Key Stage 4 pupils was not a significant feature of secondary schools. However, it would be interesting to know the percentage of young people ‘off-rolled’ that enter the criminal justice system at the present time.

Schools and colleges are currently facing financial challenges, and it is worrying that the figures in this report come from a period when schools were better, even if not adequately, funded.

Interestingly, this report does not include either regional data or data about the ethnicity of the offenders. One can assume, however, that most are young men as the number of young women sent into custody is generally very low.

Hopefully, this report will inspire the new Ministerial team in the DfE to address how the education of this group of young people can be improved and the use of custody reduced.

 

 

 

 

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One of the success stories of the past decade has been the reduction in the number of young people held in custody, both on remand and after sentencing. Sadly, with the present increase in ‘knife’ crime that trend may well be reversed over the coming few months.

Perhaps the increase in violent crime might have been reduced in scale had the Funding to help local authorities keep young people away from crime and re-offending not been halved since 2010. Youth justice grants, which fund council youth offending teams, have been reduced from £145m in 2010-11 to £71.5m in 2018-19, according to the Local Government Association. Furthermore, even though councils have already set their budgets for 2019-20, they are still awaiting their allocations for youth justice grants, thus, according to the Local Government Association, making it “extremely difficult” to plan services aimed at preventing gangs and violent crime.

Now it stands to reason that although the number of young people entering the youth Justice system is sharply down on the terrible days of the Labour government – by some 86% for the drop in first time entrants to the youth justice system – again according to the Local Government Association, many already in the system may be continuing to reoffend. . https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/youth-offending-team-funding-halved?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_term=

Cutting the grant for Youth Justice Services seems like another short-sighted attempt to save cash, where it may have actually had the opposite result in practice. Youth offending teams cannot devise schemes to held reduce re-offing, especially among what used to be termed ‘persistent young offenders’ if they no longer have the funds to do their work.

So, here is a suggestion. Any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.

Yes, the suggestion is crude, and if it catches any genuine cases, then the local Youth Offending Team can work with those schools to reallocate the funds to appropriate programmes.

This is a one-off short-term solution to allow government, in this time of policy paralysis, to find a better long-term solution to the increase in crime among teenagers and the cash to support new programmes over the longer-term.

At present, although more schools are reporting deficits, some have put money aside for a rainy day in a prudent manner, these latter group of schools would only be affected under these proposals if they had also shifted the burden of educating some challenging pupils onto others.

Cash in reserves is sterile public money, and with a need to deal with the present increase in violent crime, something needs to be done and quickly. Of course, if the government can find new cash in the Spring Statement my solution won’t be necessary.

 

 

An accident of birth

There is an interesting parliamentary procedure called a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ that allows MPs to raise subjects they deem to be important, but that are not currently part of the legislative process. In some ways it is like a junior version of a Private Members’ Bill, but with even less chance of success.

Yesterday, a Bill was presented in the House of Commons with support from all three of the main political parties in England. This was the Criminal Records (Childhood Offences) Bill, presented by its sponsor, the Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers.

In her speech about the aims of the Bill, Teresa Villiers said,

‘A key problem is that we have no distinct criminal records system for children. Apart from some limited differences providing for slightly shorter rehabilitation periods and other timeframes, children are subject to the full rigours of the disclosure system that I have outlined. Records relating to under-18 offences are retained for life. I believe that the childhood criminal records system in England and Wales is anchoring children to their past and preventing them from moving on from their mistakes. It is acting as a barrier to employment, education and housing. It is therefore working against rehabilitation, undermining a core purpose of the youth justice system. The current rules also perpetuate inequality. The Government’s race disparity audit concluded that ​children from a black and minority ethnic background are sadly more likely to end up with a criminal record. A system that is unduly penal in its treatment of such records has a harder and more disproportionate effect on BME communities. Similar points can be made about children who have spent time in care.’ https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-10-10/debates/1205F56C-ECAF-4272-81F7-BA1E629CA816/CriminalRecords(ChildhoodOffences)

I entirely agree. In September 2009, almost a decade ago, I wrote a piece for the TES in my regular column at that time. It was headed 93,601 – the number of 10-17 year olds gaining their first criminal record. https://www.tes.com/news/93601-number-10-17-year-olds-gaining-first-criminal-record

In that TES piece, I pointed out that some 700,000 young people gained a criminal record between 2000 and early 2008; not including those handed a caution or other out of court disposal. Fortunately, attitudes to dealing with petty offending have moved on from the days of Labour’s target culture and in 2016-17 there were just 49,000 proceedings against young people either in a court or by way of cautions for an admitted offence. This is still way too high, but half the level of a decade ago. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/676072/youth_justice_statistics_2016-17.pdf

Those children from a decade ago are now adults, but as I said in 2009, and Theresa Villier’s Bill sought to highlight, they carry the stigma of being an offender with them into their adult life. Not only must they declare it on an enhanced disclosure for a job as say, a teacher, but it can also affect their ability to travel to some countries that require visas, such as the United States.

My solution was that any summary offence, and most either way offences, including theft, should be removed from the record after a period of say five years free of offending.

I hope that the government will find time to either insert a clause in an appropriate piece of legislation or take up this Ten Minute Rule Bill and provide parliamentary time for it to proceed. Carrying a criminal record for the rest of your life should not be a matter of when you were born, but of the severity of your criminal behaviour.

Upturn in average number of young people in custody

There has been a small but disappointing increase in the average number of young people up to the age of 18 being held in custody over the past eighteen months. Although the figures from April 2016 to February this year are provisional, they show the first upturn in annual average numbers held in detention since 2007/08. The provisional number for 2017/18 to February was 996 compared with 3,208 in 2007/08 and an all-time high since 2000 of 3,235 reached in 2005/06 at the height of the New Labour Target Culture when young people were being criminalised at an alarming rate. The data is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/youth-custody-data

Sadly, with the increase in knife violence witnessed recently, I suspect that the average number of young people in custody will only continue to increase over the short-term. Youngster from London make up by far the largest number from any one region, accounting for a quarter of the total of young people locked up in February 2018. By contrast, only 25 young people from Wales and 32 from the South West were being held in custody.

The change in policy on remands in custody for young people some years ago means that in February this year only 216, or about 20% of the total population in youth custody, were on remand. That may well still be too high a number, but there are still some serious crimes where custody following charge may be inevitable for public protection. If you add the total serving sentences for serious offences that will likely transfer into the adult prison estate when they are old enough to the remand population this group totals about 500 of the 870 under 18s in custody. There are fewer than 400 of this age group on Detention and Training Orders, almost the lowest number since well before 2000.

Only 28 of the under-18s in custody were classified as female, down from a peak of 241 in August 2007. This is approaching a 90% reduction, a percentage not achieved for the adult female prison population during the same period. Proportionally the number of BAME (Asian, Black, Mixed and Other) young people in custody has not declined in line with the reduction in the number recorded as White, so that in February 2018 there were 470 young people in custody classified as White and 385 as BAME compared with 1,754 White and 778 BAME in custody in August 2008.

The Youth Justice Board had not commissioned any bed space in the Eastern Region and only had nine custody bed spaces in use in the North East Region.  The 137 beds in the London Region are almost certainly not enough to allow young people to be kept in custody close to home. The same will almost certainly be true for the small number of young women in custody. Regular visits are very important to those in custody and their families and this can be a real issue now that numbers in custody are so much lower than a decade ago.

We must aim to ensure numbers in custody are as low as possible and that sentence lengths take into account the mental and physical age of the young person committing the crime as well as the seriousness of the offence. Ensuring their continued education and training and mental well-being are also important factors to take into account while in custody.

 

 

 

Thank you Mr Taylor

The Ministry of Justice published an important report on Youth Justice this week. It was written by Mr Taylor. Regular readers of this blog may recall this civil servant and former head teacher when he was in charge of teacher training and espoused the view that planning ITT numbers was not useful. His views at that time were the focus of a series of blog posts.

Youth Justice, and especially the manner in which children were dealt with by the criminal justice system, was a blot on the reputation of the last Labour government. As the Taylor Report makes clear https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-youth-justice-system offending by young people reached a peak in 2007 after ten years of Labour governments and during the time the police were being required to meet targets to reduce offending.

In 2007, 225,000 children in England and Wales received a caution or conviction for a notifiable offence. Of these children, 106,000 were first-time entrants to the system having never before received a caution or conviction. 126,000 were prosecuted at court, and 5,800 were sentenced to custody. The average monthly under-18 custodial population for 2007 was 2,909.

  1. Since that high watermark the number of children dealt with by the youth justice system has reduced spectacularly, with consistent year-on-year falls. The number of children cautioned or convicted in 2015 was 47,000 – down 79% since 2007. Over the same period the number of children entering the youth justice system for the first time has fallen by 82%, the number prosecuted at court has reduced by 69%, and there are now around only 900 under-18s in custody.

This blog has commented before on the reduction in the size of the youth prison population when it fell below 1,000 for the first time in recent history. Now 900, is still far too many, but averages just below three per local authority at any one time.

The risk in the new proposals is that the current diffuse system run from both Westminster and by local authorities becomes a devolved system with some local authorities not large enough to handle an effective system. My guess is that then the government would step in and creates the regional structures it is now seeking in the adoption world where provision was patchy. Indeed, the Taylor report hints at this approach.

I also find the section on education rather woolly in terms of who takes control? Academisation and years of under-mining local authorities means that they no longer have the power to intervene when schools are not living up to the high standards required to help keep young people away from the path of a life of crime.

However, the recommendation about making convictions and cautions spent when resulting from actions when a person was a child, chimes with what I have been saying for many years. Too many people have their careers blighted by a single act as a young person. In this age of ever tightening restrictions it can mean the difference between working in a profession or not and even where a person can go on holiday.

The idea of Youth Panels sitting in local buildings also chimes with my thinking when a magistrate. With reducing workload children attending court have had to travel ever further and this means not only defendants, but also witnesses and victims: not a good idea.

As ever, with this government, the issue comes down to money and whether any changes will be used to pass the buck and reduce not improve services. We certainly don’t want to see a quarter of a million children a year receive a caution or conviction. Those days must never return.