Erratum slip on youth crime
As typing mistakes go, it is a pretty embarrassing one. And rather telling. I notice that the Youth Justice Board's annual workload report claims that for young people locked up in England and Wales "the average length of time spent in custody has decreased".
Unfortunately, elsewhere in the report they directly contradict this.
Here, they are claiming that the "increase in the average length of sentence has put increased pressure on all three types of establishments where young offenders are held".
They cannot both be right. A table suggests that time in custody is increasing...
...but a call to the YJB, and they tell me the dates are all wrong. Our conversation went along these lines:
- Okay, so you are saying that custody lengths are falling, right?
- So how is that you argue elsewhere in the report that the "increase" in custody lengths explains why young offenders are getting poorer education and training?
This is the analysis explaining how the average time spent behind bars has affected services.
"Reduced performance" in the education and training offered in Secure Training Centres (STCs) is a disaster for young people who are trying to get back on the straight and narrow when they are released.
Literacy and numeracy are getting worse in these youth prisons - last year saw the poorest results ever posted.
It appears that the YJB has been caught trying to blame the courts for its own failings.
What's more, the Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), which supervise all young people dealt with by the courts in England and Wales, also failed to meet their targets on "education, training and employment" - even though it is accepted that "ETE" has a "significant impact on reoffending".
Following my call, the YJB tells me that the report will be pulled from the website and that a corrected version will go out. The table will be amended. The analysis will be erased.
But the confusion over whether children and young people are spending an average of 76 or 78 days inside when sent to custody does not explain the board's failures when it comes to locking them up.
The YJB is committed to reducing the number of children and young people incarcerated in the "juvenile estate". But the report confirms that it has missed the target. It was supposed to cut youth custody numbers by 10% from March 2005 to March 2008.
There were 2,676 youngsters locked up four years ago. By March last year, therefore, the number should have fallen to 2,408. In fact, there were 3,004 - an increase of 12%.
How the YJB can describe this failure in their report as a target "almost achieved" is beyond me, not least because the rise occurred at a time when the YJB says that there were "17,143 fewer crimes committed by young people".
The key tool for reducing custody has been ISSPs - Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programmes.
The YJB describes them as "rigorous non-custodial sentences which combine high levels of community-based surveillance with a comprehensive and sustained focus on tackling the factors that contribute to a young person's offending behaviour".
The trouble is that ISSPs appear to be making the problem worse, not better. They require a lot of young people whose lives can often be pretty chaotic - with poor family support and often involving drugs and alcohol.
The YJB report reveals that 5,000 of these orders were made, but only 53% were successfully completed - the lowest-ever level. More than 1,600 young people were sent back to court for breaching their ISSP and half of those were then sentenced to custody.
An audit on the YJB by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies last year suggested that the ISSP was being used, not as an alternative to custody, but to "replace other, less demanding, community sentences".
The analysis goes on to suggest that "stricter enforcement procedures for breaches of ISSPs have also been a factor in the rise in the number of children in prison".
So, many of the 848 children and young people who ended up behind bars for breaching their ISSP might not have been facing custody in the first place. And far from reducing numbers in the juvenile estate, the programme is contributing to an increase.
It is a bit like a typo that says average time in custody is "decreasing" when it is actually rising. Only you can't send out an erratum slip for a mistake which damages a vulnerable child's prospects.
Update Monday 0919: Grammatical slip corrected; thanks to commenter bere54.