Youth justice statistics: we must collaborate

A blog by Keith Fraser, YJB Chair and Board Champion for Over-Represented Children

13,743 children were cautioned of sentenced in the year ending March 2023.

Today we are publishing our Annual Youth Justice Statistics for 2022 to 2023.

I was pleased to see the many positives within the report, including reductions in cautions and sentences for knife crimes involving children, a decline in the overall number of children being sentenced or cautioned, modest improvements in time frames between a child’s offence and the conclusion of their court case and the number of children in custody are the lowest on record.   

However, as we anticipated, these figures also highlight that the youth justice system is returning to pre-pandemic levels and as we start to gain a fuller picture, we are beginning to see the challenges that lie ahead.   

Our statistics show that there are rises in children being stopped and searched, increases in the number of children being arrested and for the first time in the last 10 years, there has been a slight rise in the number of children who are entering the youth justice system for the first time (FTEs - first time entrants). While these are all areas where there has been significant and sustained improvement over the last decade, these figures highlight that we have more to do to sustain and embed change.  

Rays of optimism  

  • children in custody the lowest on record, an average of 440 children detained  
  • number of children cautioned or sentenced decreased by 4%  
  • proven knife and offensive weapons offences decreased by 4%  

It is important to recognise the improvements that are being made in youth justice, and across these figures are many rays of optimism. Fewer children are being held in custody, reducing by 3% compared with the previous year. There are also fewer cautions and convictions of children involving knives or offensive weapons, a testament to the excellent work of youth justice services, reducing knife crime for the fifth consecutive year. And while still a long way to go, there are again small improvements in the disproportional representation of Black children being arrested.   

These improvements give me hope that with continued investment, the gains we have been seeing over the last decade will be sustained and built upon. In the interests of children, their families, communities, and victims of crime, we must do everything in our power to create more meaningful, impactful, and lasting changes.  

Early intervention  

  • the number of child first time offenders (FTEs) in the youth justice system increased by 1% compared with the previous year to around 8,400
  • the rise in FTEs is the first year-on-year increase in the last 10 years. This is still 72% lower than in 2012  
  • while there has been a 1% drop in 15- to 17-year-olds entering the youth justice system for the first time, this is offset by a 7% increase in younger children (aged between 10 and 14)   

First-time entrants have bucked more than a decade-long trend to show a modest increase. While overall this amounts to just 1%, a 7% increase in younger children having contact with the youth justice system is a clear indicator that now more than ever we must push for early intervention from services to stop children entering the system. We must ensure children continue to be supported away from this trajectory.   

Our research shows us that an overwhelming majority of the children who came through the youth justice system have complex backgrounds and needs. For instance, pre-pandemic levels show 71% of children entering the justice system had speech, language, and communication concerns. The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns, remote schooling and social restrictions mean these figures are likely to be even more pronounced today. The earlier we intervene to support children who are vulnerable or have complex needs, the more likely they will go on to lead constructive lives.  

I want to understand this shift in the increase in younger children entering the youth justice system. I am calling on those who work across policing, social services, health, education and the third sector to work together to prevent young children entering the youth justice system.  

‘No further action’   

  • most stop and searches of children (around 83,400 or 77%) resulted in No Further Action, while just 10% resulted in arrest
  • of the 450 children remanded to youth detention accommodation which did not result in a custodial sentence, 28% resulted in acquittal, dismissal or were not proceeded against
  • for those, whose cases were heard in a magistrates’ court, 97% did not receive a custodial sentence compared with 51% for those who attended Crown Court   

We advocate that children should be treated as children. It is a sobering reality that once a child enters the formal criminal justice system, they are changed for life. This change means they are more likely to continue to be involved in crime. It is for this reason that we promote informal, non-criminal approaches where that is appropriate.  

These statistics suggest that policing practice is changing. The Met Police, the largest police service in England and Wales, is the only service to have a reduction in stop and search, although it still accounts for a third of all such searches. It would be helpful to understand whether there is something to learn from them about this reduction. Police and youth justice responses should always be appropriate and proportionate, so I am keen to understand why there are regional differences and this is a question we will be asking. 

The outlook for over-representation  

  • the number of Black children in custody decreased by 9% compared with the year ending March 2022, the largest decrease of any ethnicity
  • there has been an 8% decrease from the previous year in the number of Black first-time entrants to the youth justice system, the largest fall of any ethnicity  
  • there has been a 13% decrease in the number of Black children being sentenced for indictable offences  
  • 58% of Black children, 75% of Asian children 70% of children with Mixed ethnicity who were remanded to youth detention accommodation did not receive a custodial sentence

While Black children and those with Mixed ethnicity continue to be over-represented across most stages of the youth justice system, there have been promising reductions in the proportions of Black children across several areas including arrests, youth cautions, first time entrants, sentencing and children in custody. Encouragingly, this will be the third year we have seen improvements in disproportionality, although there is still a long way to go.  

The YJB has been highlighting the issues of over-representation within the youth justice system for more than a decade. We recognise that many of the levers for delivering change sit outside of direct YJB control, but we remain determined to work with partners to address the contributors to racial disparity.  

Finally, I want to thank those who work in the youth justice sector for the impact they are having. These statistics show the challenges they face and the effectiveness of their work.

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Youth Justice Board for England and Wales