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by Margaret Taylor
12 May 2023
Committee highlights costs involved in keeping The Promise on care

Audrey Nicoll

Committee highlights costs involved in keeping The Promise on care

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee has said the government must ensure sufficient resources are made available if it is going to press ahead with “fundamental changes” to the youth justice system.

Under plans unveiled last year, the government intends to stop sending those aged 18 or under to young offenders institutes in favour of “care-based alternatives”.

It came as part of sweeping changes to the care system and after Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, the chief inspector of prisons, said it was a breach of a young person’s human rights – particularly if that person had not yet been convicted – to be sent to a young offender institute.

In the Children (Care and Justice) Scotland Bill, which was introduced to parliament in December, the government said that if it was deemed necessary to deprive a young person of their liberty it should be done in secure accommodation rather than a prison-type environment.

The Criminal Justice Committee, which has been scrutinising that aspect of the bill as well as a section that looks at the rights of children being held in police custody, said that while it is supportive of the presumption against young offender institutes the government must ensure it can fund the change before pressing ahead.

Committee convener Audrey Nicoll noted that there is clear support for the change as secure care units “both protect the public and offer better care and support to young people”.

However, she added that the committee had received evidence that “it costs about four times more to keep a young person in secure care than a prison and we are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure adequate resources are in place for any change to be effectively implemented”.

“Although the Scottish Government told the committee they do not currently have plans to allow for individualised assessments at sentencing, we believe this flexibility would be beneficial and is something they should review in the future,” she said.

The bill, which defines all under-18s as children and outlines changes to the children’s hearings system, was introduced as part of the government's pledge to keep The Promise.

Made in 2020, The Promise was the government’s response to the Independent Care Review, a root and branch report that found that children in care are over-policed and over-criminalised.

Then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the system would be overhauled so all youngsters in care grow up “loved, safe and respected”, with any changes due to be fully implemented by 2030.

Writing in The Scotsman newspaper last year Corra Foundation chief executive Fiona Duncan, who chaired the review, said the bill provided “a little hope to temper my perpetual frustration at things not moving as fast as they should”.

The parliament's Education, Children and Young People Committee is the lead committee for the bill, with the Criminal Justice Committee acting as a secondary committee.

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