inside of a prison cell with green walls and green bedding

Out of Trouble was a Prison Reform Trust campaign which worked to reduce the number of children and young people who are imprisoned in the UK.

Children as young as ten can be imprisoned for committing a crime in this country. Imprisonment involves a total loss of liberty and can be very damaging, particularly for those who are still growing and maturing.

30 children have died in custody since 1990, the youngest of whom was 14. Boys in prison are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than boys in the community. As well as being damaging, imprisonment doesn’t work – three quarters of all under 18 year-olds who are imprisoned will reoffend within a year of leaving - and is incredibly expensive, with two thirds of the Youth Justice Board's budget spent on locking-up children in England and Wales.

We believe prison should be reserved for children and young people who have committed serious crimes. Most children and young people have a better chance of turning their lives around and of keeping out of trouble if they serve their sentences in the community and get support from local services. If fewer were imprisoned, those inside could get the help they need to turn their lives around.

For most young people, out of trouble means keeping them out of prison.


care - a stepping stone to custody

Care – a stepping stone to custody

What I’ve heard from different police officers when I’ve been arrested, it’s like, ‘you’re a kid in care, you’re never [going to] get out of this way of life. You’re in care, kids in care are always on drugs, kids in care always make themselves unsafe, kids in care always self-harm’. So they sort of put a title on kids in care like they’re something bad.
16 year old girl with a conviction  
New research from the Prison Reform Trust and National Children’s Bureau (NCB), indicates looked after children are far more likely to be convicted of a crime and end up in custody than other children. 
  • Fewer than 1% of all children in England were looked after at 31st March 2011.
  • The 2010-11 annual survey of 15-18 year olds in prison found that more than a quarter of boys (27%), and over half of girls (55%), had been in care at some point before being sentenced to custody.
The research project was guided by an advisory group of young people in care and care leavers convened by Voice. The report’s recommendations, which draw on the children’s views on ways in which the care system can better support them, include:
  • Making sure local authorities fulfil their statutory obligations to looked after children wherever they are placed.
  • Allowing children to stay in placements where they are happy and involving them in the decisions which affect their lives.
  • Protecting children from regular changes in social work staff by ensuring every child in care has one consistent adult in their life who will respect and support them.
  • Making sure that local authorities treat children in care who get into trouble as any other parent would.
  • Maintaining contact with looked after children who end up in custody through regular visits and putting plans for their release in place at the earliest opportunity.

The National Children’s Bureau’s Dr Di Hart, an author of the report, said:
These interviews serve to remind us that there is no quick fix to reducing the involvement of looked after children in the criminal justice system.  Each child has their own unique strengths and vulnerabilities and the adults working with them must provide a care experience that reflects these. When it comes to the risk of offending, quality really does protect.
In his foreword to the report, Lord Laming said:
It is a huge step for the state to assume the parenting of a child or young person. With that comes the responsibility to provide stability, security and hope for the future. Sadly, the failure to secure   proper care and support at this time, so critical in the development of the child, results in the continuation of the downward spiral towards imprisonment. We must not stand by and allow wasted opportunities to result in wasted later lives.
Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
Let down by families and local authorities alike, far too many children find themselves on the dreary, damaging route from care to custody. Too often the state proves to be a poor parent as the tiny minority of children in care become the substantial number behind bars.
Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, said:

Children in care are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society. Many have experienced abuse and neglect, others the death of a parent or sibling. Most experience a disrupted education and move home many times during the most formative period of their lives. This important report provides recommendations for policy-makers and practitioners on how aspects of the care system could be enhanced to reduce the risk of children and young people entering the criminal justice system. Coming as this does from those who have first-hand experience of the care system – looked-after children themselves - we would all do well to give it our special attention.


You can download the report by clicking this link

Out of trouble publications