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Prisons have been failing young inmates for decades, new report finds

THOUSANDS of young prisoners are being failed by the prison service, putting the public at risk through reoffending, according to a new report published today.

The government’s Prisons Inspectorate says the service has been failing for more than a decade, missing chances to help young criminals to be rehabilitated.

There are 15,000 young people aged between 18 and 25 held mainly in adult prisons in the UK.

The inspectorate says the prison service is “without any coherent strategy and with little understanding of the way young men in their early twenties mature.”

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor has warned in the report that “outcomes would remain poor for young adults under 25 and for society unless HM Prison & Probation Service urgently addressed the current ‘haphazard’ approach to more than 15,000 young adult prisoners.”

Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson said: “The government is in a complete muddle about how to deal with young people who commit serious crime.

“On the one hand, it is determined to sentence even more young people — disproportionately young black men — to ever longer periods in prison.

“But then it fails utterly to make provision which might do anything to allow them to escape the situation which their lack of maturity has created in the first place.

“This is what comes from an overcrowded, under-resourced prison system.”

He said there was no excuse for the situation described by the chief inspector.

“Far from protecting the public through imprisonment, the government is storing up a worse problem for the future.”

Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook said: “When a young adult is in trouble with the law, it is in everyone’s interest to address the root causes of their behaviour and guide them away from crime.

“Prison will never achieve this, and it is inappropriate to suggest that it presents an opportunity for people: it should always be a last resort. 

She said that sending a young person to prison “damages them and holds them back.”

“Solving the problem begins with recognising the overwhelming evidence that young adults should be treated as a distinct group from older adults,” she said.

“Supporting judges and magistrates to make better-informed sentencing decisions would ease pressure on the prisons, make communities safer and improve outcomes for young people who need support.”

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