The use of prisons in England and Wales has been around since the mid 18th Century, after transportation to Australia and America were stopped, for those that were unable to work hard labour. As society has evolved throughout the centuries the purpose of prisons has changed to move with the times. Prisons being used in the 21st Century have seen controversy, via the mass media, with overcrowding, whether they are being used effectively in terms of cutting crime and the cost of keeping individuals in prison alongside the treatment of individuals. This is where the heart of the debate expands from.
The debate will consider the argument that more prisons should be built to house offenders for use of reduction of offending and reoffending, although this will consider children who offend. The debate will also cover alternatives that exist within the criminal justice system with the recidivism rates comparatively. As the prison system has existed within society for many centuries it is important to start with a basic history of children and prison.
It is important that when considering children and youths within the criminal justice system that the definition is explained. The definition for children by the criminal justice system is that those under 10 who commit a criminal act, by law, are deemed too young to commit a criminal act meaning they cannot be held criminally liable (Davies et al, 2003). Those above 10 are dealt with according to the crime they have committed whether they are charged with shop-lifting which is often punished with a caution or a crime as serious as murder are held and sentenced under section 90/91 (Davies et al, 2003).
At the start of the 20th century the equivalent of a current day youth prison in the form of Borstal, which were first set up at Borstal Prison in Kent, United Kingdom, in October 1902 (BBC, 2002). It housed delinquent boys between the ages of 16 and 21. Borstals were there to offer education, regular work and discipline. Borstals became abolished under the 1982 Criminal Justice Act, where many changes to the Youth Justice System came into place (OPSI, 2009).
Currently youths are placed in three styles of 'prison' dependent on their offence, these being secured training centre's (STCs), secure children's homes (SCH) and young offender institutions (YOIs). Each type of 'prison' will cater for different styles of offenders. STCs (YJB, 2009) are specifically built for young offenders up to the age of 17, with four being in England. The size of the units varies with a maximum of 8 places in any specific house in the grounds of the STC. Educational and work based training, 25 hours per week over 52 weeks per year, means that the individuals needs can be met and mean they can be rehabilitated and gain employment after completion of the sentence. Training for staff means that the young person can also be placed back into society into a network of support rather than being expected to fend for themselves in the outside world.
The difference between STCs and YOIs is that there is a higher staff ratio enabling better support for the individuals. SCHs, (YJB, 2009) however, focus on the needs of the child's physical, emotional and behavioural issues. Being used to accommodate young offenders generally aged between 12 and 14 although girls can be up to the age of 16 and boys up to 16 if they are assessed as being vulnerable. YOIs (YJB, 2009) are facilities that are run by both the prison service and the private sector.
The Youth Justice Board are responsible for placing young people under the age of 18 in secure accommodation either those stated above or a YOI, children under the age of 18 are kept separate to those above 18. There are 28 YOI that house up to 360 young people, with 3-6 officers per wing who receive prison officer training alongside a Juvenile Awareness Programme. As a YOI accommodates a higher amount of young people they are unable to address as many of the needs that individuals may need which can often lead to inappropriate accommodation for vulnerable individuals with high risk needs such as mental health problems or substance misuse problems.
Now these three styles of prison work because: Statistics that show prison works – reoffending rates – deterrent factor – recidivism rates As prison is considered an extremity and is often used to house repetitive offenders or those the criminal justice system believe cannot be helped through 'societal' means. The terminology of societal refers to the sentencing structures set by the CJS that do not mean a prison stretch but working with other organizations such as probation and various youth teams. The sentences that exist instead of imprisonment include: referral orders, supervision orders, curfew orders and the new youth rehabilitation order.
Referral Order (YJB, 2009) can be given to a young person who pleads guilty to an offence when it is their first time in court. The exception to this rule is when the offence is too serious and is covered under Section 90/91 or under a Detention and Training Order. In some cases if the offence is considered too minor then a fine or absolute discharge is given. The Referral Order means the individual has to attend a youth offender panel made up two volunteers from the local community and a panel advisor (generally someone from the YOT). Along with the offender the victim is also invited to see the contract agreed by all parties being implemented.
The contract typically lasts between three and twelve months long with the aim being to repair the harm caused and address the causes of the offending behaviour, this may include the offender attending an anger management course. Once the contract has been completed successfully the conviction is classified as 'spent' and means that depending on the type of job being applied for would not have to always be disclosed, enhancing the youth's future job prospects.
Supervision Order (YJB, 2009) can last up to three years and carry a range of conditions if used for more serious offences, known as 'specified activities'. These often include drug treatment for those over 16, curfews or residence requirements. These are often tailored to be fitting to the crime that has been committed. The YOT influence the supervision order further by requiring the individual to partake in extra activities that can help to repair the harm caused to the victim or community.