Youth justice group Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) is calling for a new law to dramatically increase the custody threshold for young offenders.
The group, whose members include the Howard League for Penal Reform, says that legislation is necessary to ensure prison is only used as a last resort for young people.
It wants to see custody only considered for young offenders if the offence is punishable with life imprisonment and where there is a risk to the public if they remain in the community.
Courts should also be forced to obtain a clinical assessment of young offenders and consider their background as mitigation.
The move would cut the youth custody population in half, says the SCYJ. It would also save around £93m a year, which takes into account developing alternative community sentences.
In 2009/10 £305m was spent on youth custody, an increase of three per cent on the previous year. The number of children handed a custodial sentence tripled between 1991 and 2006 in England and Wales. The number of children in custody on remand has increased by 41 per cent since 2000, the SCYJ adds.
By Joe Lepper
Children & Young People Now
3 August 2010