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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:-   10 July 2006

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SLASH CHILD PRISON POPULATION BY 2/3RDS

A NEW report published Tuesday will say that youth custody should be abolished for all but violent offenders, drastically slashing the number of young people being locked up by around 4,000.  The report, issued by the Local Government Association (LGA) at its Annual Conference in Bournemouth, says that children that commit non-violent offences should be given tough community-based sentences, not sent to prison. This would slash the young prison population by around 65%, reduce re-offending amongst children and save over £70m a year. Children who pose a risk to society should continue to be sent to prison.

In the wake of the Inquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham, such a move would take pressure off overcrowded cells and help to ensure the implementation of Mr Justice Keith's recommendation that the elimination of enforced cell sharing should be a high priority.

Council leaders are calling for resources to be diverted from the custody system to community-based initiatives and for the courts to use tough prison sentences only as a last resort. The government also needs to send a clear message that sending children to prison can be counter-productive in many cases.

The child prison population has risen by over 50% since 1992, with children locked up for roughly twice as long as they were in 1994, despite the fact that re-offending rates after custody stand at 82%. Around 6,500 children are sent to custody every year.

Cllr Les Lawrence, the LGA's spokesperson on Children and Young People, says:- "More and more children are being locked up for offences that are less and less serious. Thousands of young people are caught in a vicious circle that condemns them to a life of crime and does nothing to make the nation a safer place.  The worst offenders still need to go into custody as the protection of the public must be put first. But this year alone we estimate that more than 4,000 young people who didn't commit violent offences ended up behind bars. To deal with them in the community would be more effective and cost the taxpayer less. These changes won't happen over-night and decisions by the courts need to be made based on individual circumsatnces, but over the next few years there needs to be a concerted effort to halt this worrying trend.

Community sentences aren't an easy option, restricting where young people can go and what they can do. But, this is combined with intensive support to tackle the root causes of their behaviour and to stop them re-offending in the future.  Locking young people up simply doesn't work in many cases, with around nine out of ten re-offending when they come out. In addition, custody is incredibly expensive, costing the taxpayer around £245m every year."


Tim Bateman from the Youth Crime division of Nacro, the youth offending charity, says:- 'Nacro welcomes the LGA's report. The costs of locking up children at the current rate is far too high: custody is detrimental to children's welfare; it is at best ineffective, and more frequently counterproductive, as a measure for reducing youth crime; and it is wasteful of resources which might be put to better use to prevent offending'.

VOICES OF POVERTY FROM LIVERPOOL

POVERTY “is about unequal choices” according to a report published by End Child Poverty. The report, which chronicles the views of families in poverty from Liverpool and across the United Kingdom, highlights the difficult choices they face in their daily lives and the solutions they recommend.

“People [in poverty] don’t get the same choices as other people…do we heat or eat?” Participant

In the report families speak passionately about the effect of the daily, endless grind of poverty and the impact it has on their children.

“When you are depressed, it affects your children, …in some cases, you do not think of … the children, because you are constantly thinking about paying back your debts.” Participant

This report brings together the views of over 300 people who took part in a series of inspiring events organised by End Child Poverty, its members and supporters in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Sheffield. The feedback event in Liverpool took place on the 5 April 2006.

“If you listen directly to families in poverty you learn that many have yet to experience the good quality service that the Government is trying to deliver. 

Enabling parents to get out of poverty requires highly individualised services and support. Enabling children of the future to break the cycle of poverty requires equal access to high quality education.” said Hilary Fisher, Director of End Child Poverty

Recommendations from participants include improving access to high quality, accessible, affordable childcare, improvements to the benefits & tax credit, fair wages and equal access for children to high quality education.

“Solving child poverty won’t be easy, earlier this year the Government narrowly missed its target to end child poverty by a quarter, it is clear much more needs to be done if the Government is to meet its next target of halving child poverty by 2010 and prevent poverty for future generations.

The Joseph Rowntree report published today, What will it take to end child poverty? estimates the impact of government policies and what is needed to eradicate child poverty. Listening to the views of families in poverty is an essential part of finding the solution. This report is published in association with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation who did just that. The government and all the opposition parties need to do so too.” said Hilary Fisher.

The Joseph Rowntree report calls on the Government to substantially increase parents earning opportunities, benefits and improve educational achievement of disadvantaged children.  The Government must act now to make sufficient progress in these areas to enable the UK to reach its target of ending child poverty by 2020. While the costs estimated by the JRF may appear high the costs of not tackling child poverty is even greater. As 1 parent said:- “Childhood cannot be relived. Isolation, desperation and hurt are not just words for young people - they have a scarring impact. It is unforgivable that these years can be allowed to be stolen from young people through poverty.”

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