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By Matthew Barrett
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CSJThe Centre for Social Justice is today recommending an overhaul of Britain's youth justice system. The CSJ says the youth justice system is being treated as a “dumping ground” for problem youths and is currently expected to take on cases that other council services have failed to address.

A report by a team of experts, commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice, due to be released on Monday, says that Britain is failing to prevent youth crime, and that imprisonment of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 is far too frequent in England and Wales. This course of action should be limited to the “critical few” guilty of serious crimes and who represent a threat to the public.

The CSJ says 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, then held in a police cell over a weekend for throwing a bowl of Sugar Puffs at his care worker, then jumping out of the window and climbing back in again. The report stresses the need to return to a “common-sense” approach to minor incidents such as these and advises that parents and teachers use their own judgement to deal with problem children at a home or school level.

The report also advises against the widespread use of short sentences for young offenders, instead suggesting alternative non-custodial punishments, such as more rigorous community sentences and restorative justice schemes, not least because three out of four of those given a custodial sentence reoffend within a year. A further point made by the report is that schools, children’s social care teams, mental health services, communities and families should be playing a greater role in improving the behaviour of young offenders.

Gavin Poole, Executive Director of the CSJ, says in a preface to the report:

"Reform of the youth justice system needs to go further and deeper. This review by no means seeks to excuse the behaviour of these young people. We strongly believe in young people taking responsibility for their actions and being appropriately penalised; no offender should ever be allowed to think they are immune from the law. However, if society wants to see youth crime tackled it must be prepared to make greater efforts to understand and address its drivers. As a society, we can do better than simply condemn these children for their crimes. We believe there are more effective and demanding ways of delivering justice than through punishment alone. Many young people fall into the system unnecessarily and do not receive the help they need to free themselves from it. Custody is sometimes neither a protective nor a productive place for children, and community orders can be equally ineffective. Moreover, despite years of good intentions, many young people leaving custody are still not being provided with the basic support they need for rehabilitation. Many of these young people consequently become the life-long persistent offenders who are saturating our adult prisons."

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