Headlines: September 7th, 2006



Local authorities have responded to criticisms by the Howard League for Penal Reform and are pointing out that a rapid rise in the number of children in prison is placing a big burden on councils who have legal obligations to support them when they are released. The League had accused local authorities of systematically failing children and leaving the public at risk when youngsters offend again.

In a 32-page report, “Chaos, Neglect and Abuse” setting out the legal duties of councils, the League said children released from custody had to be supported “for the sake of all of us.” In response Les Lawrence, the Local Government Association’s spokesperson on Children and Young People, said authorities took their responsibilities to vulnerable children seriously and did all they could to ensure they got the supported they needed.

“However, an explosion in the child prison population over the last decade has placed an intolerable burden on councils in an area where resources are already stretched and difficult decisions need to be made,” he said.

The LGA estimates that about 4,000 non-violent young offenders a year should be dealt with in the community rather than being put into custody. This, it believes, would not only cut re-offending rates but save some 70 million pounds a year that could be used instead to ensure young offenders received the support they needed.

“The law in this area can be incredibly complicated and the LGA will be working with the Howard League and the government to clarify the responsibilities of councils. We would like to thank the Howard League for identifying an area of concern that affects a considerable number of young people at a time in their lives which is often the most vulnerable,” said Councillor Lawrence.

John Coughlan, the vice-president of the Association of Directors of Social Services supported the LGA’s view but said the recently established joint initiative with the Youth Justice Board that puts social workers in young offenders’ institutions would be an enormous help in the future. “However it is important, too, that local authorities recognise the important duties they have towards children in their care who end up in custody,” he added.