£250,000: Cost of locking up a child offender for one year
LOCKING up child criminals costs Scotland £27 million a year, with 108 under-16s held in local authority secure units at an average cost of £250,000 each, new figures have revealed.
The cost, both financial at a time when the country is making cuts and to the lives of the young people involved, has led to calls for more early intervention.
Brigadier Hugh Monro, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said: "Securing young offenders is not a cheap option. As a society we need to look for alternatives.
"We need to make sure that young people coming from those post codes providing the majority of offenders are better able to enter society.
"It's my duty to warn of the dangers of offending and the implications of serving prison sentences."
He added: "It's important we do try to achieve a lower prison population. I would like to address how we deal with children to make sure they don't go to prison.
"How can we eradicate the reasons for offending? It's not something that's going to happen overnight."
It costs an average of 32,000 to keep an adult in prison for a year, although this figure includes Polmont Young Offenders Institute, where the cost is typically higher. Children cost more to lock up than adults because they need more help, which means more staff. Local authorities employ a range of professionals, such as mental health workers, drugs counsellors, teachers, social workers and security staff, to try to make sure the children do not continuing committing crime after release.
Tam Baillie, Scotland's Children's Commissioner, said: "It makes sense to invest in services at an earlier stage to prevent expensive options later, and is particularly important in the earliest years of a child's life. This would be a better way to spend taxpayers' money, for longer-term benefits, ensuring children do not enter the criminal justice system, preventing crime and freeing up valuable resources."
Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: "We believe that prevention is better than cure, both for the young person and the taxpayer. If the issues they have are identified and addressed in their earlier years, then helping them would be much more cost-effective and the chances of having an impact on their behaviour is greatly improved."
Andrew Lowe, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said: "This is a very small number of children who have considerable challenges around their behaviour or backgrounds, which require this step to be taken.It's always a last resort to go to secure accommodation for understandable reasons - it's expensive not only in money but also in terms of the children's lives."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Scotland's secure care accommodation provides a high quality service for some of our most disadvantaged and troubled young people, placed through the Children's Hearing system and the courts, providing the intensive support and safe boundaries to keep them and their communities safe. The government is committed to working with partners to ensure we have the right services to keep young people and the public safe, maintaining children in their communities wherever possible. Published evidence shows a real impact in terms of reducing reoffending and improved outcomes."
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