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Latest News - 21/09/2010

Children in trouble are 'doubly punished', Out of Trouble research reveals

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) today launches the most comprehensive report for 25 years into how and why so many young people in England and Wales are sentenced to custody.

Punishing Disadvantage - A Profile of Children in Custody is published by the PRT's Out of Trouble campaign, which aims to reduce child and youth imprisonment and is supported by the Fund.

6,000 young people who received custodial sentences or remands in the second half of 2008 were profiled as part of the study and the backgrounds of 300 children were examined in detail.

Researchers found that the majority of young people in custody have already experienced multiple disadvantages in their short lives, whether growing up in care, witnessing domestic violence or living in unsuitable accommodation.

'This report shows definitively that children and young people are being doubly punished: first by having traumatic childhoods and then by being locked up, often for not very serious crimes,' says Penelope Gibbs, Director of Out of Trouble. 'Prison is often seen as a deterrent, but for these young people it isn't. It is just the last in a long series of bad experiences in which family and state have failed to protect them from harm.'

The report also highlights the large number of children imprisoned for non-violent offences and the rise in custodial sentences for 'technical reasons', such as breaching the conditions of community sentences or failing to surrender to bail.

The Out of Trouble campaign also commissioned an exclusive YouGov poll on public attitudes towards child and youth offending to coincide with the launch of the report.

The poll found that nearly two thirds of the public do not want to see children and young people sent to prison until they are at least 14 for non-violent offences. However, the UK continues to send more children and young people to prison, and at an earlier age, than most other European countries.

The authors of Punishing Disadvantage do however note that the coalition government's ongoing review of sentencing and its commitment to a 'rehabilitation revolution' may herald a more progressive approach to offending by children and young people.

Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund says: 'It is crucial that we develop a welfare-based approach to offending by vulnerable children. This study demonstrates that we need to reduce the inappropriate use of custody and introduce more progressive policies towards offending by children and young people.'

The Fund is committed to ensuring fair treatment and better futures for the most vulnerable people in the criminal justice system. Find out more about our penal reform work here.

To download a copy of Punishing Disadvantage, click here.