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On the map - Young prisoners - Decade of decline for numbers in custody

There is an interesting correlation between the effective staffing of secondary schools and the number of teenagers in custody. Whether there is also a causal relationship between these two variables is not for me to say. But what is clear is that the number of under-18s in custody, either on remand or sentenced by a court, has been falling from the peak reached during the summer of 2002.

Figures for February 2011 show virtually the lowest number since the millennium, with 1,839 young males and 103 young females in custody. In 2002 they peaked at 3,608, some 1,666 higher than in February this year, a decline of not far short of a half in the total number in detention.

Custody rates are not uniform across England and Wales. In 2009-10, the latest year for which data is available, the national rate for custody was 5.5 per cent of those under 18 convicted of committing an offence, with violence, robbery and burglary accounting for the vast majority of sentences to custody.

The North East had the lowest custody rate, at just 3.4 per cent, compared with 6.9 per cent in the West Midlands, the region with the highest figure. London, along with the other major urban regions, also had percentages above the national average, whereas the South West, South East and East of England all had percentages below average, with the South East, at 3.8 per cent, only just above the figure for the North East.

Of the 4,710 young people sent into custody at some point during 2009-10, 4,316 were young males, and 394 young females; 371 were in the 10-14 age bracket, but the majority, 2,138, were age 17 when imprisoned.

There is, of course, a debate to be had about whether it is correct to detail children who are not yet even teenagers in custody. England has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility - 10 - and campaigners would like this to be closer to 14. To do so would have kept 371 young people out of custody in 2009-10 and 41,000 out of contact with the police, 25,000 of whom received a warning.

However, 15,000 made it to a youth court - the equivalent of two a week from every local education authority.

An effective school system for all is the best means of keeping more young people out of trouble.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education

Number of under-18s sentenced or on remand

FEB: 2009

Male: 2,491

Female: 157

FEB: 2010

Male: 2,069

Female: 118

FEB: 2011*

Male: 1,839

Female: 103

* Provisional data. Source: Ministry of Justice, see

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