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Youth custody in Scotland: rates, trends and drivers

Barry, Monica (2010) Youth custody in Scotland: rates, trends and drivers. [Report]

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Abstract

The upward trend in youth custody rates across the UK has led the Prison Reform Trust, with support from The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, to identify the drivers to youth custody and to reduce the overall numbers of children and young people in prison or secure settings. The Trust's concerns rest on the following facts: imprisoning children is harsh and ineffective; children can suffer mental health problems as a result of being deprived of their liberty and having limited contact with family and friends; the incarceration of children is not cost-effective; custody exacerbates rather than reduces youth crime (Prison Reform Trust/ SmartJustice, 2008). Two studies have been undertaken in England and Wales to date as a result of this campaign (Gibbs and Hickson, 2009; Prison Reform Trust/SmartJustice, 2008). The Prison Reform Trust now wants to explore youth custody rates, trends and drivers in Scotland, with a view to reducing numbers of children and young people held in custody north of the Border. This review therefore gives some key statistics on youth custody rates and trends and explores the drivers to changes in those rates over time. The review identifies four key drivers: a) increasingly stringent requirements imposed on children and young people who offend; b) the increased use of remand; c) shorter prison sentences with little scope for rehabilitation; and d) the earlier criminalisation of children and young people. Reducing child imprisonment requires attention to all four of these factors which interact in different ways and at different times, depending on policy, practice and public concerns.