Young Criminals Will Be Sent To Children’s Homes

Teenage muggers and burglars sentenced to jail by the courts will instead attend local schools and live alongside orphans in open children’s homes. The hardened criminals would normally be locked in detention centres with specialist classrooms. But it has emerged an overcrowding crisis in the juvenile prison system is forcing the Government to dramatically relax the law. It will allow the criminals to mix with society’s most vulnerable youngsters in the relaxed regime of a mainstream children’s home for the first time. And some will even be allowed to attend local schools.

The Government has also ruled they should no longer be considered young offenders. Instead, in yet another example of political correctness, the Home Office’s new Offender Management Bill refers to the tearaways as ‘trainees’.

Critics last night condemned the move, warning it would allow juvenile criminals to coax vulnerable children towards a life of crime. They blamed the policy on the Government’s failure to provide enough places in the youth justice system, which is close to bursting point with 3,260 juveniles behind bars. Only 100 places remain.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Nick Clegg said: “Overcrowding in our prisons must not be allowed to turn children’s homes from a place of refuge into semi-penal institutions. Open homes do not offer either adequate supervision or rehabilitation. This will only increase the risk of pushing more young people towards long-term hardened criminality.”

Currently, juvenile offenders sentenced to custody by the courts must be held in Young Offender Institutes, Secure Training Centres or in secure children’s homes. They are taught within the home or institution by specialist teachers. Under the Government’s plans, the law will be changed allowing the criminals to be sent to open children’s homes, run by local councils, for the first time.

The Bill states the accommodation they are held in must no longer be for the ‘purpose of restricting liberty’. Home Office minister Gerry Sutcliffe insisted any criminals sent to open children’s homes would be subjected to a full-risk assessment to see if they are a danger to other youngsters and the public. He added: “This is about an holistic solution to tackling re-offending. It is the opportunity and the option that we require.”

Mr Sutcliffe denied the move was directly linked to a shortage of custody places, but then admitted the Government could not ‘continue with the (detention) rate we are going at’.

Helen Edwards, head of the National Offender Management Service, said there were no plans to invest in extra security measures at the open children’s homes. She added: “We won’t be putting children into these conditions unless we feel it is appropriate.” Asked if the young offenders would be allowed to attend local schools, she said: “They may if it is appropriate. We will treat every child as an individual.”

It sparked condemnation from victim groups. Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: “Honest law-abiding children who are unfortunate enough to have ended up in care homes are very impressionable and vulnerable. “If they are seeing offenders in the same place then without parental guidance their role models are going to be criminals.”

To have received custody in the first place, the children are likely to be repeat offenders, Many are guilty of mugging, burglary or violent attacks.

The main focus of the Bill is supposedly knocking the failing probation service into shape. Mr Sutcliffe said it had swallowed huge amounts of public cash while failing to cut re-offending rates.

In a move likely to meet opposition from Labour MPs, it will allow private companies to bid to supervise offenders for the first time. It will also abolish existing local probation boards and replace them with probation trusts.

The Bill will introduce a 10-year maximum penalty for assisting a prisoner to escape. And the law on bringing items into jails will also be re-written, to include mobile phones, cameras and sound recording devices for the first time. Smuggling in any of these electronic devices will carry up to two years in prison, as will the smuggling of alcohol into prison. Other items including controlled drugs, explosives, firearms or offensive weapons will carry up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

A spokesperson for the Youth Justice Board said: “Effective resettlement into the community helps reduce reoffending. This proposed change will allow some children and young people sentenced to custody to be held in open conditions towards the end of their sentence, but only if it is judged safe to do so. This will help their rehabilitation and resettlement back into the community. T

“he YJB is clear that non-secure accommodation would only be applied on an individual case-by-case basis following careful risk assessment. The vast majority of young offenders will continue to be placed in secure accommodation as is now the case.”