Children Should not be Jailed, says Report

May 17, 2007
Youth Justice

The age of criminal responsibility for British children should be raised from ten to as high as 18, a report said today.

The document from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) also suggested children should no longer be sent to prison.

It features a collection of essays from academics and campaigners who claim there is an urgent need to review the approach to “children in trouble” and said the British age of criminal responsibility was much lower than in countries such as Germany (14), Canada (12) and Russia (15).

The age at which children can be prosecuted should be raised to 14, 16 or even 18, the contributors said.

Rebecca Palmer, a youth worker with 20 years experience, and who works for the Children and Young People’s Unit at the Greater London authority, said in her essay: “The negative perception of young people as ‘hoodie-wearing yobs’ should be concertedly challenged. The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 18 and Asbos should be abolished. No child should be in prison and alternatives should be sought.”

Bob Reitemeier, of the Children’s Society, suggested 14 years should be the minimum, and criminologist professors Barry Goldson, of Liverpool University, and John Muncie, of the Open University, wrote: “We submit that serious consideration should be given to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 16 or even 18.”

The CCJS, which is based at King’s College, London, said England and Wales had one of the highest child imprisonment rates in Europe. Will McMahon, one of the report’s editors, said the number of under 18s currently in custody was 3,000, an increase of 20 per cent in ten years, and said it was four times more than France, ten times more than Spain and 100 times more than Finland.

The report suggested moving responsibility for youth justice from the Home Office to the Department for Education and Skills and that serious crimes committed by children should be punished by a “residential training order” of up to five years. Mr McMahon said this could include a residential school, an adolescent mental health unit or foster care.

CCJS’s deputy director, Enver Solomon, said: “We are publishing this because we believe the current age of criminal responsibility is too low and there needs to be an urgent rethink. All options need to be under consideration, and we want to start a debate about what the new age should be. We think the new Ministry of Justice should make it a priority to look again at the age of criminal responsibility.”

The joint editor of the report, the CCJS’s Zoe Davies, said: “It is striking that the government remains committed to the criminalisation of children and young people as a mainstream policy response. This is despite all the evidence that the youth justice system is damaging to the majority of those young people who come into contact with it.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “There are no current plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales. We are concerned about 10 and 11-year-olds becoming drawn into offending behaviour, and criminal responsibility from the age of 10 allows us to intervene early to prevent further offending and to help young people develop a sense of personal responsibility for their misbehaviour. The early teenage years are an important, high risk period when timely intervention can make a real difference.”

Read the CCJS report
Read Chapter: Debating youth justice: from punishment to problem solving © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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