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Thousands of children ‘needlessly dumped in prison’

A report by a team of experts commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) says that Britain is failing to prevent youth crime, and it concludes that a bold new approach is required to transform the lives of child offenders.

Imprisonment of young people between the ages of ten and 17 is running at far too high a level in England and Wales, according to the CSJ, and it should be limited to the “critical few” guilty of serious crimes and representing a threat to the public.

Too many children are being taken before the youth courts for trivial reasons. In one case cited in the report, a child was arrested for assault and attempted burglary and held in a police cell over a weekend after he had thrown a bowl of Sugar Puffs at his care worker, jumped out of the window, then climbed back in.

Youngsters involved in playground fights have been branded a life-long threat to children, which bars them from certain areas of employment in future life.

The report urges a return to a “common-sense” approach to such minor incidents and that parents and teachers use their judgement to deal with them at a home or school level.

The report also condemns the widespread use of short sentences for young offenders, saying that they undermine justice and disrupt attempts to educate and rehabilitate them.

No sentence should be shorter than six months, but the accent should be on finding non-custodial punishments, such as more rigorous community sentences and restorative justice schemes, where underlying behavioural problems can be tackled more effectively.

In the long-term, measures to prevent lawbreaking by young people should be the primary responsibility of child welfare services, currently run by local authorities, and not the youth justice system.