Children and Young People in Custody in Scotland

The Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ) has today published a joint report encouraging reflection about children and young people in the justice system in Scotland, particularly those who are detained in custody.

‘Children and Young People in Custody in Scotland: Looking Behind the Data’ was produced in partnership by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and CYCJ at the request of the Youth Justice Improvement Board, set up by the Scottish Government to drive forward the implementation of the Youth Justice Strategy (2015).

Through offering insights into what we know about children and young people and what is happening within youth justice, the report seeks to provide a basis for discussions to inform improvement. In addition to research findings, it incorporates the story of ‘Danny’, whose experiences represent those of many young people in custody.

The report is aimed at those providing services and support to vulnerable children and young people, and those who come into contact with children and young people in the justice system.

Claire Lightowler, Director of CYCJ said:

“This timely report shines a light on the experiences of children and young people in custody in Scotland, exploring their backgrounds, reasons for being in custody and experiences once leaving custody.

“It raises some important questions for youth and criminal justice policy and practice, for instance, why the remand population is so high and why have so many children and young people in custody breached bail conditions. The Youth Justice Improvement Board is using this report to ask difficult questions of ourselves to ensure that custody is only ever used for children and young people where it is the only option.”

Colin McConnell, Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service said:

“When a young person is sent into our care, the time they spend with us is a unique opportunity for them to be helped and supported as they come to terms with their situation. The SPS places a high priority on everyone in our care making best use of their time in our care to build on their assets and to prepare for a positive future. This publication provides us with a rich source of additional evidence about their needs and the patterns of offending that cause them to come into contact with the justice system. It will help us to further improve and make more relevant the work we do with young people, so that we can help them to grow, develop and be more confident and hopeful about their future.”

Key findings include:

  • There has been a dramatic reduction over the last decade in the level of offending by children and young people in Scotland, and a general decline in the number of under 18s in custody since 2009.
  • Whilst the report cites examples of successes as a result of strong partnership working and effective support, it also notes that necessary supports are not consistently in place across the country and some sentences are short, limiting the scope to have comprehensive support in place at the point of liberation.
  • Early school exclusion is one of the strongest predictors of making the transition from the Children’s Hearing System to the adult criminal justice system and ending up in custody. School exclusion before age 12 significantly increased the odds of imprisonment by age 22.
  • It is imperative that all children and young people in custody and their families are provided with good quality throughcare support
  • A period of custody – no matter how short – may disrupt the child or young person’s life with consequences which go far beyond the sentence without effectively addressing issues and needs.

Download ‘Children and Young People in Custody in Scotland: Looking Behind the Data’

Contact Us

Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice
University of Strathclyde
Lord Hope Building, Level 6
141 St. James Road Glasgow G4 0LT

(0141) 444 8622

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