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England & Wales: New report urges greater use of restorative justice in reducing youth offending

15th July 2010

Restorative justice crucial to making a fresh start in tackling youth crime, according to a new report from the Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour. Time for a Fresh Start reports on the first-ever independent inquiry into youth crime and antisocial behaviour.

The report is the result of an in-depth study carried out by the Commission over 18 months, examining alternatives to existing responses to young offending in England and Wales.The work included consultation and engagement with young people with experience of the youth justice system as victims, witnesses or offenders. It concludes that restorative justice should be at the centre of reform, offering better justice for the victims of crime, while cutting reoffending rates and reducing the number of young people who end up in prison.

Time for a Fresh Start also examines the costs to tax-payers of dealing with youth crime, arguing that many millions of pounds are being wasted each year on custody for the under-18s – especially considering that as many as three out of four young offenders are re-convicted within a year of completing their sentence.

Significantly, the Commission sets a target for the current use of custody to be halved to fewer than 1,000 young offenders at any one time without adding to crime rates and compromising public safety. Furthermore, the Commission urges a significant reinvestment of resources in early intervention – something which IPRT is also campaigning for in 2010.

According to Anthony Salz, Executive Vice-Chairman of Rothschild and a former leading commercial lawyer who chaired the Commission: “Investment in proven, cost-effective preventive interventions has been too low and children at risk of becoming prolific and serious offenders have missed out on timely help. Worse still, those who do become chronic offenders in their teens are treated in ways that do little to help them return to lead law-abiding adult lives – and may even serve to deepen their offending.”

The guiding principles underpinning the reforms are: prevention, restoration, integration. Recommending a target for reducing the number children and young people in custody to less than 1,000 at any one time, the Commission proposes:

  • A statutory threshold on the use of imprisonment, so it is reserved chiefly for those whose violent behaviour poses a danger to others or themselves.
  • An end to short custodial sentences of less than six months, agreed by those who work with young offenders to serve little constructive purpose.
  • Greater use of supervised bail accommodation and intensive fostering to end the excessive use of remands in custody.
  • Decommissioning of old, unsuitable Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and giving consideration to creating Young Offender Academies in major cities, where young people held in secure accommodation would share high-quality education and treatment facilities with those in supervised hostels or living in the community.

Anthony Salz said: “We need a fresh start to turn round the damaged lives of children and young people who risk becoming our most serious and prolific offenders and to spare society the unacceptably high costs of failure.”

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