In December 2016, the number of young people detained in custody by the Criminal Justice System amounted to 829 people. This was a historically low number. Since that point the number detained has sadly risen by over 12% to 927. Clearly the detention of these young people, assuming they are being held for good and appropriate reasons creates challenges for the organisers of our prison estate. The reasons for detaining these young people can include that they are at risk from their own behaviour or they are a risk to other people due to their consistent behaviour. These people spread over the nation will not be based in locations that are convenient from the point of view of the prison service and its limited youth provision, yet the need to ensure that their detention is close to home, in many cases is vital if they are to be rehabilitated in an effective way. Detaining them in the adult prison system is not a good solution for them or the other adult prisoners. It seems clear that we need to see a major change in the way in which we deal with youth custody. This article which is where the numbers above were identified reports that the “chief executive of social justice charity Nacro, which is developing plans to improve the way young offenders are supported on leaving custody alongside the YJB and Ministry of Justice, said: “It is very disappointing that figures from the YJB show that youth custody levels are showing a continuous rise for the first time in almost a decade””
For several years I was a Trustee of a charity that focused on assisting people to deal with the transition back into life outside the prison that they had been held in. Because there are no youth prisons in Sussex, Sussex Pathways primarily dealt with adults in their work, even though we could easily have adapted our work to include young people. I was also Chair of the Board of a Charity now based in Sussex and Surrey, known as YMCA Downslink Group for many years. The extent to which that youth charity worked with people who had been detained was also limited. No doubt some of the limitations are due to the relatively small number of youth detainees. However ensuring that young people whose behaviour (or the behaviour of those around them) leads to the need for a period of detention, are cared for in an effective way in our communities when they are released depends on an extensive level of planning. Nacro is a well respected charity, but it is not the only charity capable of assisting in this process and the Ministry of Justice needs to delegate to local charities as well as work with national charities like Nacro.