The youth justice system

What is the youth justice system (YJS)?

The legal framework

The age of criminal responsibility in England is 10 years.

The youth justice system (YJS) was set up under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Its aim is to prevent young people offending or re-offending.

The formal YJS begins once a child or young person aged 10 or over (and under the age of 18) has committed an offence and receives a reprimand or a warning, or is charged to appear in court. Note that from 2013 reprimands and warnings will be replaced by restorative solutions and cautions.

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Youth offending teams (YOTs)

The Crime and Disorder Act requires local authorities, the police, probation, and health (PCTs, and once the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is implemented, Clinical Commissioning Groups) to set up youth offending teams (YOTs) to work with children and young people offending or at risk of offending. YOTs must include representatives from the police, probation, health, education and children’s services. YOTs continue to have responsibility for children and young people sentenced or remanded to custody.

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Police custody suites

Police custody suites are designated areas in police stations for the processing and, if necessary, detention, of a person who has been arrested. They usually consist of rooms or cells for detention, a room for custody officers to process those who have been detained, interview rooms, and a medical room for the use of clinicians providing health services to the custody suite.

There is currently no standardised process for screening and assessment of health and well-being needs within police custody suites. The treatment of children and young people in custody suites is governed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and its accompanying codes of practice (Code C of PACE includes health assessments). The legislation and codes of practice are primarily concerned with the process of detention and questioning. PACE is anomalous with other legislation in the UK in that young people aged 17 are treated as if they were adults for the purposes of police procedure, whereas in all other legislation anyone under 18 is a child or young person.

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Youth justice liaison and diversion schemes

The cross-government Health and Criminal Justice Liaison and Diversion programme, led by the Department of Health, includes a major national programme of pilot youth justice liaison and diversion (YJLD) schemes for children and young people with mental health, learning or communication difficulties, or other vulnerabilities affecting their physical and emotional well-being. During 2011/12, 31 pathfinder sites for children and young people will contribute to the evidence base generated by the original 6 pilot schemes that have been running since 2008.

The purpose of the programme is to identify all health and social care needs at whatever point children and young people enter the YJS, with a view to securing more systematic access to services and enabling the police and courts to make informed decisions about charging and sentencing.

Find out more about youth justice liaison and diversion.

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The secure estate for children and young people

The secure estate for children and young people is the umbrella name for the establishments that hold children and young people who are in custody. They include young offender institutions (YOIs), secure training centres (STCs) and secure children’s homes (SCHs).

YOIs are run as part of HM Prison Service (apart from one which is a private prison run under contract to the Youth Justice Board). STCs are run by private companies, and SCHs are run by local authorities (although they can also be run by private and voluntary organisations).

The vast majority of children and young people in custody are held in YOIs, with STCs and SCHs used for children who are younger and deemed more vulnerable. The secure estate provides custodial placements for 10-17 year olds, although some 18 year olds remain if they are near the end of their sentence.

View a map of the secure estate in England and Wales.

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