Magazine article Public Finance

Children 'Don't Belong in Jail'

Magazine article Public Finance

Children 'Don't Belong in Jail'

Article excerpt

Next year, local authorities will take over financial responsibility for children on remand. This is a good move as councils should be able to support the children and help keep them out of custody

This month a consultation paper is being issued to local authorities on their new responsibilities for the costs of children remanded in custody and the associated budget transfer.

This is something we at the Youth Justice Board have been pushing for since 2009 as we believe that it is the package of child support provided by councils that strongly influences court decisions.

For example, if children appear in court for an initial hearing without a suitable place to live in, the magistrate is much more likely to remand them in custody than if the local authority has a well-worked out plan for accommodating and supporting the children while on remand.

It makes sense for local authorities to be financially responsible for children and for this to influence efforts to ensure they are kept out of custody wherever possible. Already we are seeing much greater attention being paid by youth offending services and children's services to children on the cusp of a custodial sentence.

Custody should be reserved for those for whom a robust community sentence is not appropriate, due to the severity of their offence or the risk they pose to the community.

So I welcome the new legal framework that will try to ensure local children's services and wider partners, including health services, always act in the child's best interests. Anticipating the forthcoming changes, we are working with local youth offending teams to make sure that we have robust data on the use of secure remand by each local authority.

I am hoping that local authorities will respond to the consultation paper and will gear up now for the responsibilities coming their way. From April next year, when the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 takes effect, this transfer from national to local government budgets will affect directors of finance and Cabinet members for finance when the costs appear for the first time on council books.

Remands to custody costs range from £212,000 per year for a child in a secure children's home to £60,000 for a young person in a Young Offender Institution. We have been discussing the impact of the Act with the Local Government Association, chief executives and directors of children's services for some time as we were sure that they, alongside finance directors, would want to be well versed ahead of implementation. …

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