Use of restorative justice should be part of this strategy as a first step for most child offenders, as in Northern Ireland. The forthcoming sentencing green paper should include proposals to reverse the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 that extended the powers of the courts to incarcerate young offenders and for longer.
Finally, the MoJ and Department of Communities and Local Government should devise a scheme whereby local authorities bear part or all the costs of children from their patch placed in custody â€“ they need to be incentivised to invest in community-based preventive initiatives. In the case of Wales, all the YJB’s functions should be transferred to the assembly, which already has responsibility for all other children’s services.
Brave ministers will take further steps. The MoJ needs to think more creatively about what “taking young offenders out of circulation” means in practice. A custodial sentence shouldn’t generally mean consigning young people to large, closed, distant, young offender institutions run by the Prison Service. The age of criminal responsibility will ideally be raised to at least 12. If ministers flinch from this they should ensure that serious child offenders are always dealt with in youth courts.
If ministers are courageous then the YJB’s abolition could be part of a radical, positive change of policy direction.
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