The number of children from minoritised groups increasingly over-represented in custody 

Published 28th April 2022 Source: National Audit Office

The Ministry of Justice and HM Prison & Probation Service expect the number of children in custody to more than double by September 2024.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report said that after long-term decline, the number of children in custody is expected to rise rapidly as a direct result of increased police recruitment, moves to tackle the court backlog caused by Covid and tougher sentencing after the passing of the police, crime, sentencing and courts reform bill.

The following data analysis has been taken from the NAO report. It examines children’s characteristics and custody arrangements:

  • Children from ethnic minority backgrounds: The Ministry’s data show that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are increasingly over-represented in the youth justice system. In the year ending March 2021, on average 53% of children in custody were from ethnic minority groups compared with 32% in March 2011.8,9 Black children accounted for 29% of children in custody, compared with 18% in the year ending March 2011. This compares with 4% of black children in the general population (based on the latest available census data from 2011).
  • Boys: In the year ending March 2021, boys made up 97% of all children in custody. While the number of girls in custody is very low, they are typically more vulnerable and likely to have experienced victimisation (sexual and physical) and relationship difficulties.
  • Children with mental health and other health issues: Around one-third of children in custody report a known mental health disorder and many have other health problems and learning difficulties. The rate of self-harm incidents per 100 children and young people per year increased by 90% across children and young people in custody between March 2015 and March 2021.10
  • Children in care: The National Association of Youth Justice – an organisation that promotes justice for children – reported that children in care are seven times more likely to end up in prison than their non-care equivalents. In the year ending March 2021, of children in care aged 10 to 17, 2% were convicted or subject to youth cautions or youth conditional cautions during the year (960 out of 40,480 children). Boys account for 73% of these proven offences (700 out of 960).
  • Children from chaotic family circumstances: Academic literature highlights that children in the youth justice system typically come from chaotic family circumstances where substance misuse, physical and emotional abuse, and offending is common.
Read the full reportChildren in custody: secure training centres and secure schools

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