Headlines: November 16th, 2005

An independent report out today says that treating young offenders like adult criminals makes them more likely to re-offend. The study”, Lost in Transition: Young Adults & the Criminal Justice System”, produced by a Commission set up by the Barrow Cadbury Trust says almost three quarters of 18-20 year olds are reconvicted after release from the prison system.The Commission is now calling for the youth and adult criminal justice systems to merge into a single set up that would enable provision to be tailored on the basis of maturity and individual need, rather than age alone.

Today’s report finds that the current system is failing at huge expense to the taxpayer. New figures suggest that imprisoning 18 to 24 year olds costs more than 800 million pounds a year and that this group is responsible for up to 20 billion pounds worth of crime annually. Most young adults, it says, will grow out of crime and it argues that treating younger offenders over the age of 18 as fully-mature adults simply ‘fast-tracks’ their criminal careers as it exposes them to hardened criminals and cuts off their access to support services.

The report calls instead for funding and resources to be directed to supporting young offenders through the transition to adulthood, and to steer them away from a life of crime. In the interim it wants to see the creation of local Transition to Adulthood (T2A) teams. These would have strategic responsibility for ensuring all public service agencies collaborated to meet the needs of young adult offenders in their areas.

In addition the Commission is recommending that Magistrates and judges should take age and maturity into account when sentencing and that sentencers should refrain from imposing custody in all but the most serious cases until age of 23. It also calls for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Home Office to convene a young adult advisory group to discuss how young people are policed and for housing benefit payments to those under of 25 to be raised to the same level as is paid to over 25s.

It is also suggesting that people under 23 should not be required to disclose their criminal convictions to employers with certain specific exceptions. It also makes a case for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Departments of Health, Education and Skills, Work and Pensions and the Home Office to provide joint funding to set up a pilot model of ‘one stop’ shops offering support services for young adults, including access to a personal adviser to help them navigate their way through all the available services.

Greg Parston, who chairs the Commission, said, “Our failure to address the needs of young adult offenders in transition to adulthood is wasting young adults’ lives as well as huge amounts of public money, and not reducing crime. If we want safer communities, public services, including the criminal justice system, need to introduce changes.