Until last week, I worked in a secure children’s home. We looked after 17 children serving custodial sentences for offences. This means that as well as the challenging behaviour, we also saw the positives.

In the end, they’re just kids. And the vast majority are very likeable human beings.

As well as seeing positives in the children, it’s been great to see a few positive changes in the youth justice system recently. Hopefully this reflects a positive shift-however slight-in the way young people who offend are viewed.

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So what’s changed?

– The end of routine strip-searching of young people on admission to custody – Recently, the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright, announced that the government intends to end the routine strip-searching of young people on admission to Young Offender Institutions. Instead, a time-limited pilot will allow such searches only on a risk-assessed basis. This should radically cut the number of such searches being necessary; hopefully saving around 11,000 children the indignity of a practice Lord Carlile described as “demeaning and dehumanising.” Read more detail here.

– The treatment of 17 year olds in Police custody, as children – A recent High Court Judgment ruled that 17 year olds taken into police custody should be treated as children. This effectively amends the current practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) which considers them to be adults. As such, they do not have an automatic right to an appropriate adult being present to help them through the arrest and interview process, or to have their parents informed of their arrest. This will now change, bringing police custody procedure in line with other legal provision. This will effect 75,000 children a year!

– The decrease in child arrests – Police arrests of children aged 17 and under has fallen by more than a third since 2008. In that year over 315,000 thousand were arrested. In 2011 there were just under 207,000 arrests. This marks a major positive shift in the way the police and other agencies deal with teenagers. Through the pre-court and restorative work of youth offending teams and tenacious campaigning organisations like the Howard League for Penal Reform, the youth justice system has begun to divert more children away from the system, treating them more as children in need of help and support. Final thought…

Anecdotally, I have observed the children coming into custody in the last two years or so, to be a noticeably higher need group than previously. It may be that this reflects the fact that these are the most troubled group. As such, they exhaust what community provision can offer, necessitating a period in custody.

A key question for me is: will the government use the savings produced by fewer children entering the system, to provide resources for this more needy group? After all, these are the kids who repeatedly re-offend. Or will they divert the money elsewhere?

In order to protect the public more effectively and to reduce the likelihood of more re-offending in the future, it is this group that must be the target of our most concerted efforts. This will take cash to achieve…

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What do you think?…

– Do you agree that these really are improvements?

– What other changes have you observed – for better or for worse?

Please let me know what your thoughts are… scroll down to leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

–  Crime & punishment 1 – Why punishment isn’t enough…

– Crime & punishment 2 – Cause and effect…

– Crime  punishment 3 – “Give a damn!”…

– YOIs need more staff, not less…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013

(Acknowledgement: This post draws heavily on the information published by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the blog of its CEO, Frances Crook – with thanks!)