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Youth Crime Response: Custody versus Educational Centres


The question as to whether the youth should be taken into custody or allowed to go into education centres generally depends on whether the youth is to be treated as someone responsible for his own actions or someone who is a special deserving case.


This essay argues in favour of an approach that focusses on education centres instead of prisons or punitive approach because this approach allows early intervention and reformation of young offenders. On the other hand, a punitive approach will expose young offenders to a criminal system that is appropriate for adults but only puts younger people at harm and risk of victimisation.

Youth Crime Response: Custody versus Educational Centres

Youth crime is not a new phenomenon and is as old as human society. However, the special emphasis on youth crime as being distinct from adult crime has been a reality for at least a century and a half. Youth criminals or delinquents were first segregated from adult criminals in prisons by incarcerating the former in youth prisons. Eventually, reformatories were established as correctional facilities and in the last few decades there has been a greater focus on using educational centres rather than youth custodial centres. In other words, there has been a shift from the punitive to the reformatory. To a great extent, academic research from different disciplines, include, law, psychiatry, and social work, has established that there is a reduction of recidivism by adopting a less punitive approach to youth crime.

In the UK, there are around 1000 persons are in youth custody at any given time. Such children enter secure centres for children but they can also be sent to custody until the next court appearance or sentencing. In such a situation, schools provide information on a child’s educational history to the magistrate as a part of presentencing information. When children become subject to the criminal justice process, their education gets impacted as legal, health and court appointments may hinder their access to schools. Therefore, there is a clear contradistinction between custody and access to education in the punitive process or response to juvenile crime.

There are many disadvantages of choosing a punitive approach to youth crime, that is, an approach that focusses on custody. First disadvantage is that it exposes young offenders to an adult criminal justice system, where even exposure to juvenile courts may have a detrimental effect on juvenile offending. Young people who are exposed to adult or adult like criminal justice system are likely to face a system that may not be appropriate for their age. The second disadvantage is that there is a stigma that is permanently attached to the individual who is criminally convicted. Such an individual will be labelled as a criminal, making juvenile convicts liable to being labelled as criminals later in time. The third disadvantage is in the nature of practical consequences of custody. Youth offenders are kept in the prison with other such delinquent juveniles, increasing the risks in harms, discontinuity in education, and exposure to violence. For instance, in a report, young offenders in the UK reported victimisation.

An advantage of educational centre is that it emphasises on involving juvenile offenders in vocational or occupational activities, which is suggested by research to be beneficial. For instance, one of the experimental studies found that involvement in after-school programs, community projects, family therapy and educational sessions reduced reoffending. The education based programs can offer methods of reformation for the juvenile offenders. Such programs can also be seen as interventions for young offenders, where the system steps in early to intervene and provide reformation and rehabilitation to the offender. The report by Charlie Taylor addresses this need for early intervention in the lives of young offenders and using education instead of custody or prison time to respond to the offenders. The case has been made for establishing two new secure schools, which will facilitate learning important subjects like English, Maths and practical skills.

It is argued that the progress made by young offenders can be measured in context of education, health and behaviour.

The justification for this approach towards juvenile offenders is that children who break the law usually act impulsively and may not be emotionally developed or understand the consequences of their actions.

The proponents of punitive approach towards juvenile offenders argue that there should be “adult time for adult crime”, wherein the youth offenders should be treated as adults for the purpose of crime and punishment if they commit serious crimes. In contrast, those who advocate for a lenient approach for the youth offenders, base their arguments on the developmental model, which advocates lenient punishment or mitigation. Another argument is that teenage delinquency is generally a temporary phase for most teenagers and statistics also reveal that teenage crime rates decline steeply.

Therefore, teenage delinquents are not generally recidivists. Moreover, there is evidence that adolescent offenders are immature in a way that makes them different from their adult counterparts; thus, appropriate for mitigation of culpability.

To put such children in the criminal justice system where many of them are first time offenders may not be appropriate. Whereas, it is more appropriate that such young persons are put in special or secure schools that allow them to study and learn life skills. Many of these children may never commit a crime again and they need to be prepared for a life in the society as responsible adults.


Juvenile delinquency and crime is generally distinguished from adult crime. There is an argument for greater involvement of educational centres for juvenile criminals as an alternative to custody of juvenile criminals. The argument is based on the benefits of this approach for reducing recidivism as well as treating juvenile delinquency as distinct from adult crime. Juvenile offenders can be allowed to mitigate their culpability by virtue of their emotional immaturity and inability to assess consequences of their actions. Considering this, a more lenient approach is appropriate. Secure schools as recently proposed by Charlie Taylor are an appropriate measure.



    1. Muncie J and Hughes G, "Modes of youth governance: Political rationalities, criminalization and resistance", in John Muncie,
    2. Gordon Hughes, Eugene McLaughlin (eds.). Youth Justice: Critical Readings (London: SAGE 2002).
    3. Muncie J and Goldson B, Comparative Youth Justice (Sage 2006).
    4. Piquero A, Farrington D and Blumstein A, “The Criminal Career Paradigm,” in Michael Tonry and Norval Morris (eds.), Crime and Jus- tice: An Annual Review of Research (University of Chicago Press 2003).


    1. McAra L and McVie S, “Youth justice? The impact of system contact on patterns of desistance from offending” (2007) 4 Eur J Crim 315.
    2. Myers WC, Burton PR, Sanders PD, Donat KM, Cheney J, Fitzpatrick TM, “Project back-on-track at 1 year: a delinquency treatment program for early-career juvenile offenders” (2000) 39 J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 1127.
    3. Schaeffer CM, SW Henggeler, JD Ford, M Mann, R Chang, JE Chapman, “RCT of a promising vocational/employment program for high-risk juvenile offenders” (2014) 46 J Subst Abuse Treat 134.
    4. Scott ES and Steinberg L, "Adolescent development and the regulation of youth crime" (2008) 18(2) The Future of Children 15.

Government Reports

    1. Lader D, Singleton N and Meltzer H, Psychiatric Morbidity Among Young Offenders in England and Wales (Office for National Statistics 2000).
    2. Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, “Education in Youth Custody” (PostNote No. 524 2016)
    3. Taylor C, Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales (TSO 2016).


Truss L, “Government will use education to offer hope to young offenders”, The Guardian (10 December 2016), accessed .

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