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Youth Offending: the delivery of community and custodial sentences

Head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn reported to Parliament today that the Youth Justice Board, established in September 1998, has successfully developed and introduced a range of new non-custodial sentences and programmes for young offenders. There is scope, however, for the Board to improve forecasting of custodial numbers, deciding of placements and agreeing common aims and objectives with the Prison Service for establishments. And the Board needs to develop clearer plans for the future of the custodial estate, including the type and location of establishments. Further education and offending behaviour work with young offenders in custody can often be disrupted, and the work is too often not continued when the individual returns to his or her community.

In 2002-03, according to Youth Justice Board data, 268,500 offences were committed by young people aged 10 to 17 years in England and Wales. Some 73,700 young offenders received a reprimand or warning from the police and the courts handed out 93,200 sentences. The sentences included 59,400 non-custodial sentences and around 7,000 detentions in custody. Detentions in custody account for over two-thirds of the Board’s £394 million budget for 2003-04.

While the numbers of young people in custody have remained fairly constant (around 3,000 in 2002-2003, reducing to some 2,700 by June 2003), pressure on the number of places available, particularly in Wales, London and the South East, has led to a high number of transfers (2,400 between April 2002 and January 2003) between establishments, often to make room for new arrivals. This disrupts programmes to educate young offenders and stop them re-offending. According to today’s report, the Board should improve its forecasts of the likely numbers sentenced and draw up plans for improving the location and type of places required. And, if transfers are necessary to accommodate new offenders, the Board and Prison Service should take account of the extent to which offenders have engaged with their sentence plans – in addition to their age, sex and vulnerability – before deciding which of them should be moved.

Today’s report also points out that if the Youth Justice Board is to meet its aim of reducing the number of young people in custody, it will need to improve the credibility and effectiveness of higher tariff community sentences. Reconviction rates amongst those on higher tariff community sentences excluding the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme have remained high at around 60 per cent. Magistrates have welcomed the introduction of the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme, in particular the high level of contact hours. The Board’s guidelines stipulate the steps that should be taken if young offenders do not comply with the terms of the programme. In some areas over half the young offenders on the programme did not complete it and some had to be re-sentenced into custody. The Youth Justice Board is researching why this is happening and expects the results to be available in the Summer.

Weaknesses remain in the way young offenders are supervised in the community, in particular those released from custody. Full time education and training started in custody are all too often not continued in the community, mainly because of the logistical problems in finding suitable courses, a reluctance by some young people to attend and difficulties in persuading schools to accept young people who may have previously been excluded. Moreover, many young offenders do not know on the night before they are released from custody where they are going to live after release. The Youth Justice Board has worked with the Connexions Service to co-ordinate work, but action is needed to improve the readiness of all agencies involved in youth justice to work together.

"The Youth Justice Board has done much to implement reforms to the youth justice system, but more needs to be done to rehabilitate young offenders within the community to reduce risks of reoffending. The movement of young offenders from one institution to another can be unsettling for offenders, breaking developing relationships with those responsible for their supervision, and disrupting educational and other programmes intended to help prevent reoffending. Better assessment of custodial needs, and more recognition of offenders' progress with their programmes when deciding who to move, would be beneficial. "And better co-ordination by all agencies involved in supervising young offenders in the community or in providing appropriate support services for such young people would reduce uncertainty for some offenders about accommodation, education or employment on completion of their sentence."

Sir John Bourn

Notes for Editors

The National Audit Office undertook a joint review of youth justice for offenders aged 10 to 17 years with the Audit Commission. The Commission has also published a report today, Youth Justice 2004: a review of the reformed youth justice system, which focuses on progress made since they last examined this area in 1996, including the work of the courts, the role of youth offending teams and the delivery of services by other agencies.


The Youth Justice Board was established in 1998 as a non-departmental public body to lead and support the implementation of the youth justice reforms in England and Wales. The aim of the Youth Justice Board is to prevent offending by children and young people by preventing crime and the fear of crime; identifying and dealing with young offenders; and reducing re-offending.


The Board has a service level agreement with the Prison Service to provide places at young offender institutions. The Board also has agreements in place with 22 local authority secure units to provide accommodation and contracts with Rebound ECD and Premier Training Services to provide secure accommodation in three secure training centres.


There are 155 youth offending teams across England and Wales responsible for working with young offenders. Their duties include working with the courts to provide bail support and to prepare pre-sentence reports, administering non-custodial sentences and the resettlement of young offenders in custody. The Board provides funds of up to £47.7 million in 2003-04 to support community work, conditional upon satisfactory performance.


The Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme is a six month programme targeted at the most serious and persistent offenders with a requirement for 25 hours of supervision per week during the first three months and a minimum of five hours thereafter. Each young offender is subject to a curfew monitored through electronic tagging and voice verification or through police monitoring.


Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.


The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.


PN: 04/04