Darroch Ball
Co-leader Sensible Sentencing Trust

The outgoing Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft wants to get rid of Youth Justice Residences. That old chestnut. It seems he is suffering from the same condition he was afflicted with a couple of weeks ago when he wanted spit-hoods abolished for teens who continuously spat at and bit officers. It appears if anything even looks like it shows a bit of discipline, correction, or punishment towards teen criminals he wants to ‘abolish’ it.

Youth Residences are a solution to a problem and are the very last step in a far too soft and drawn-out justice system for out of control and violent teens. If Becroft wants to abolish them – what’s his alternative? Where do they go?

Becroft was the Principal Youth Court Judge before his foray into the Children’s Commissioner’s spot, so he should know the multitude of measures the system goes through even to just have a teen stand in front of a judge. Then the severe allergy those judges have to even consider putting them in a residence. Any young offender who has been locked up has to have offended to such a massive degree that they are a danger to society and the judge had no choice – so where does he suggest they go, back into the community?

What he is wanting is to have seventeen- and eighteen-year-old murderers, rapists, bashers, drug dealers, and home invaders all kept out of the courts and out of prison. He is wanting the likes of the seventeen-year-old who recently bashed a cop with a baseball bat to not face the full force of the district court and laws.

One thing I agree with him on is the fact that the youth justice system needs an overhaul – I totally agree. The only problem is he just wants to make it even more sopping wet. The entire system is broken and actually acts as more of a crime conveyor belt rather than a crime-stopper. The system is clearly too soft when it needs to come down hard and acts too late when it desperately needs to engage or intervene.

One of the biggest issues is that 80% per cent of the system is actually dealt with by police – and they are told to never prosecute unless it’s the very last resort. So we end up with crim teenagers being picked up and taken back home learning to think the system is a joke. It’s not until they offend to such a high degree or offend for the fiftieth time that they ever start being formally dealt with. You can just imagine how effective that would be. 

It’s hardly surprising that when they end up in youth court they have a more than 66% chance of reoffending and ending up in an adult court within two years. That reoffending rate is even worse than adults going through adult court. If they end up being put in a youth residence, they have upwards of 90% chance of reoffending – they are already beyond gone. But go back over the last five years and count how many times Becroft has said our system is ‘highly successful and the ‘best in the world’.

Over the five years that he has been Children’s Commissioner successive governments of red and blue have kept youth justice residences when they could’ve got rid of them – because, whether Becroft likes it or not, they are needed.

Young offenders literally know the system is a joke. If Becroft really wants to overhaul the system he should start with making sure it holds them to account. All he needs to do is go look up the reoffending rates to know that, whatever he thinks is happening at the moment, it simply ain’t working.


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Becroft Wants to Soften the Softest Soft Youth Justice System
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