Call for leniency in sentencing children for minor offences

A report by the Prison Reform Trust calling for a review of the prison system suggests that new rules be made to protect children convicted of petty crime from custodial sentences.

Whilst only 6% of children in care find themselves on the wrong side of the law they account for 50% of children incarcerated in England and Wales. The report seeks to reduce the numbers of children in care that have been criminalised as often if they were in a ‘traditional’ family setting incidents would not be escalated to the police at such an early stage as is evident in a large number of cases today.

Earlier this year it was reported that some care homes appear to be using the police/police cells as arbiters of small quarrels; some care homes contacted police many times for things as trivial as a broken cup. The report states that children in care are more likely, by virtue of their upbringing, to find themselves criminalised. The Reports suggests a move away from reliance on the police and hopes a number of these children in care can be disciplined outside of the criminal justice system and rarely should the police be called into the home to settle minor disputes. The report suggests a supportive approach is taken to those children in care in relation to minor skirmishes to help redress the balance away from the 50% figure of imprisoned children being from care setting.

The report proposes small crimes to be dealt with by referral instead of through the criminal justice system which could help reduce the number of children in care that are in custody.

The Government has set up a sub-committee whose sole purpose is to protect children in care from criminalisation. David Cameron also stated last week that the Government was committed to supporting children in care from criminalisation. There is a great deal of guidance which seeks to inform the criminal justice system in dealing with looked after children but the report states that this is not currently consistently followed.

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