Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 12:22 UK

Call to cut UK youth custody rate

Young offender in custody
The number of children jailed has tripled in 15 years, report says.

UK authorities should mimic radical measures from overseas to cut youth crime and the number of children in prison, a report has urged.

Canada and New York have cut high custody rates by "completely rethinking" their practice, the study by the Prison Reform Trust said.

The charity said there were 2,932 children on average imprisoned in England and Wales at any time in 2008.

Director Juliet Lyon said: "It is all too easy to give up on children."

She added: "Drawing on sound international evidence, this report shows that it is perfectly possible to cut youth crime and, at the same time, reduce the number of young people damaged by needless imprisonment."

Financial incentive

According to the report, the number of children sentenced to custody in England and Wales tripled between 1991 and 2006.

It urges policymakers to learn from examples in Canada, the US and Europe, where a range of measures have successfully reduced youth crime and detention rates.

In Canada - where a 2002 law made sure custody would only be used as a last resort - the rate of admission to secure custody fell by a third from 2003/04 to 2007/08, and youth crime also saw a reduction.

Courage in taking on the doubters can pay dividends
Penelope Gibbs
Prison Reform Trust

And in the US state of New York, the number of children in custody fell by 27% from 2000 and 2006 after alternatives to prison, such as family therapy, were introduced.

In the state of Ohio, local authorities were made responsible for the bill for imprisonment, giving them a financial incentive to keep young people out of prison.

Penelope Gibbs, director of the PRT's Out of Trouble programme, said jailing children was "ineffective and frequently inhumane".

She added: "This report shows our government that courage in taking on the doubters can pay dividends."

Lib Dem justice spokesman Paul Holmes praised what he said was an "excellent" report.

He said: "It is time to stop talking about reducing the child prison population and time to start taking steps to make it happen."

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