Although criminal justice is not devolved, the Welsh Government has launched ambitious plans to reform how young people are dealt with when they get into trouble with the law. Child welfare is a devolved responsibility and the approach put forward in a Green Paper for consultation is to recognise the vulnerability of children and young people who offend and avoid simply categorising them as 'young offenders'.
– Communities Minister Carl Sargeant AM
The acquisition of a criminal record early in life can stifle the potential of a young person, denying them access to areas of employment and other opportunities. If their needs are not addressed they may continue to offend, become the adult prisoners of the future and the parents of the next generation of children and young people who are involved in crime.
I am determined to break this cycle so that these children and young people can lead more constructive and fulfilling lives and contribute more positively to society. This offers the best hope for those who offend, overall crime prevention and community safety and, in turn, reduces the risk of creating yet more victims in the future.
Part of the current strategy is prevention, identifying families where parents or older siblings are or have been offenders and where children are in danger of following their example. The government believes that aspect is working well. The main proposed change is to put more resources into dealing with young people who have committed a minor first offence and are prepared to admit it and apologise. There will also be more resources for dealing with those who have committed more serious crimes but have mental health or drugs problems.
It's thought that if there are youth workers available to deal with these youngsters, the police will be more willing not to charge them with an offence. That's already the case in some parts of Wales, notably in Cardiff and Swansea. In other areas the police are sometimes faced with the possibility that the young people will only receive effective help if they are charged and convicted.
Equally it's seen as important that magistrates are not left with the prospect that a young person they have found guilty will only get help if they receive a custodial sentence. But that is already unusual. At present, about 5,000 young people each year receive a community punishment while the number of under 18 year olds in custody has fallen from 121 in March 2010 to 81 in March 2012.