The Youth Justice Board (YJB) has published its usual annual statistics about children in the youth justice system in England & Wales.
While the statistics show a decrease in the number of children who come into contact with the youth justice system, the average custodial sentence length increased by six months. Black children continued to be overrepresented in the system even if there were reductions in the proportions of Black children across several areas including stop and search, arrests, youth cautions, first time entrants, sentencing and children in custody. In addition, the latest figures highlight the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the youth justice system in some areas as well as a continuation of downward trends in others.
Stop and search data
For the year ended March 2022, there were approximately 94,900 stop and searches of children. Despite stop and searches being a key entry point into the youth justice system, 78% of these stop and searches of children (around 74,200) resulted in No Further Action, with just 9% resulting in arrest, 5% in Community Resolutions and 7% in other outcomes including use of formal warnings or seizure of property.
First Time Entrants (“FTEs”) to the system
Children who are FTEs to the youth justice system have been steadily decreasing in number between the year ended 2012, when the number of child FTEs was approximately 37,000, to a figure of just over 8,000 for the year ended March 2022. It is also important to note that a 10% decrease occurred in the previous year from 8,800 to just over 8,000, which was consistent with the steady downward trend over the years.
The average age of FTEs has increased compared with ten years ago, increasing from 15.1 years old in the year ended March 2012 to 15.4 in the latest year. Over the last ten years, the average age of child FTEs receiving a sentence has always been higher than the average age of those receiving a youth caution.
The makeup of FTEs continues to include significantly more boys than girls. The statistics continue to show that diversion benefits those from a white ethnic background over those from a Black background: Child FTEs from a white ethnic background have fallen at the fastest rate, by 83% over the last ten years, even though Child FTEs from a Black background saw a very significant decrease (24%) in the year ended March 2022 compared to the year ended March 2021.
Types of offences committed by child FTEs
In the year ended March 2022, the two most common offences committed by child FTEs were summary offences excluding motoring and possession of weapon offences. These offence types both accounted for 21% of all offences committed by child FTEs. Compared with the year ended March 2012, the proportion of theft offences fell from 27% to 9%.
Sentencing of children
In the year ended March 2022,
- there were just under 11,400 occasions where children were sentenced at court, which is 7% lower than the previous year. This continues the decreases seen in each of the last ten years. The average time from offence to completion was 217 days, the second highest in the time series and just four days lower than the previous year and well above pre-pandemic levels. Of all sentencing occasions for indictable offences, the proportion of sentencing occasions involving Black children for indictable offences decreased from 21% in the year ended March 2017 to 20% in the latest year;
- almost three quarters (73%) of children remanded to youth detention accommodation did not subsequently receive a custodial sentence, and
- there was an average of around 450 children in custody at any one time during the year, a fall of 19% against the previous year and the lowest number on record with the proportion of children held in custody on remand increasing from 40% to 45% compared to the previous year, the largest proportion since the time series began. However, the number of Black children in custody decreased by 23% compared to the previous year, the first instance in the time series where this group had a larger year on year decrease than white children. Despite that, Black children continue to be overrepresented as they accounted for 28% of the total youth custody population while white children accounted for 48%.
Reoffending by children
The proven reoffending rate for children for the year ended March 2021, which is the latest available data, fell by 3% to 31.2%. This was the lowest reoffending rate on record and the second largest year on year fall in the time series, though is likely to be affected by the impacts of limits on court activity in the periods of restrictions during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent backlogs that meant some reoffences weren’t counted.
Children who reoffended committed around 17,600 reoffences giving an average of 3.54 reoffences per reoffender (frequency rate). While this is a 3% decrease compared with the previous year, it is still 11% higher than ten years ago.
Despite the downhill trend in the reoffending rate for children, the statistics demonstrate that they still re-offend significantly more than adults.
Ethnic disproportionality in the youth justice system
There continues to be a significant disproportionality in outcomes for Black children in the youth justice system.
For instance, the proportion of children from a Black ethnic background has increased the most for the year ended March 2022, and now accounts for 28% of the youth custody population, compared with 17% ten years ago, though there was a decrease of one percentage point compared with the previous year whereas the proportion of children from a Mixed ethnic background has more than doubled, increasing from 7% to 15% over the last ten year.
Furthermore, compared with the year ended March 2012, while it is true that the numbers of arrests of children of each ethnicity have all decreased by a large degree, such decrease occurred at different rates. For example, arrests of white children have fallen by 73%, compared to 67% for Black children. This has led to a change in the proportions of arrests by ethnicity.
For the year ended March 2022, Black children were also involved in 16% of stop and searches and constituted 13% of arrests amongst children, 12% of cautioned or sentenced children, 20% of occasions on which children were sentenced at court for indictable offences and 31% of the proportion of children in custody on remand, whilst constituting just 4% of the UK’s child population, which shows the stark disproportionality.
In line with the past few years, the overall picture painted by the latest year’s youth justice statistics is one of a downward trend in the number of children offending, with the raw number of children reoffending and in custody both at their lowest levels. Whilst difficult to precisely measure its impact, this fall was likely accelerated in the last two years due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is no doubt partly due to the continued success of diversion schemes.
Notwithstanding a few improvements, there remains significant ethnic disproportionality reflected at every stage of the youth justice system. The YJB clearly hope that the publication of data included in these reports will result in policies that aim to tackle this pressing issue. YJB chair, Keith Fraser stated: “We can, and must, ensure that all children, regardless of background or characteristics, have an equal chance to thrive” in a recent article. In publishing these statistics, the Youth Justice Board welcomes any feedback, which can be sent to email@example.com.
Lorenzo Colombi-Manzi, Associate, Paul Hastings LLP