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Why Prison’s Don’t Work for Young People

Why Prisons Don’t Work for Young People

By Christian Douglas – August 2020

The criminal justice system has had a revolving door for many years, seeing re-offending rates as high as 80%. This is not a success and the criminal justice system is letting young people down in many cases.



  • Prisons are not built for young people or humans in this day and age
  • Staff are not trained or paid well, and the turnover of staff is ridiculous
  • There is a heavy focus on punishment, leaving little room for rehabilitation and reintegration
  • The criminal justice system does not focus enough attention on rehabilitation i.e. CAT D establishments and reintegration back into society
  • Young People are spending too much time in their prison cells- in many cases 23 hours per day and even 48 hours in some cases, literally driving young people insane!
  • Young people are becoming institutionalised and unphased by the physical challenges of prison.
  • The criminal justice system needs to be fixed, updated and/or reformed
    • More representation from BAME communities
    • More training for judges and jury staff to help them understand young people better.
    • The combination of above is having a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children


The facts to support this:

  • Young black men are more likely to be sentenced in comparison to their counterparts. They make up a large proportion of the prison population despite being a minority across the UK – something has gone wrong here!
  • Sentencing is much higher for people from BAME backgrounds – why?
  • The jury and judges lack understanding of young people and the culture of today
  • The prison population is rising overall
  • More young people are leaving prisons with mental health and drug problems
  • Re-offending rates have remained between 40-75% in the last 10 years.

(facts and figures can be provided upon request to support this)

What can be done to overcome this?

  • A bold Government needs to make rehabilitation a priority and invest in the criminal justice system
    • Training for prison staff, judges, jury members, probation and YOS staff – to understand the thinking, thoughts and feelings of young people, to enable a better response to their criminal behaviour
    • New initiatives and radical approaches as seen in the USA, such as boot camps, specialist therapy programmes and incentives for good behaviour.
    • A focus on Category D prison establishment to prepare young people for release and gradually releases them back into the community, whilst eliminating triggers to reoffending such as debt, housing, gang’s rivalry etc.
  • The media and society need to understand that reoffending rates need to be reduced and to do so requires investment. 1) to prevent further victims of crime and 2) to make young people become valuable members of society 3) to make the community a safer place.


This is just a start and much more can be done by listening to young people who commit a crime. We recognise that not all young people are ready for rehabilitation but there are many who deserve a good rehabilitation system.

LCF London Community Foundation - Unique Talent - May 2019 - 016

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